Why aren’t England being Tested?

It has been an eventful – to say the least – year for England’s cricket team. I would call it “The Year of the Long Knives”. Of the England eleven that played in their first Test of 2014 five of them have not played Tests since and three of them probably never will again. Then there was the Kevin Pietersen affair, the loss of two coaches and the team’s spectacular fall and rise during the summer’s Tests. And somehow it seems fitting that the last act of a chaotic year will be a series where England are in the wrong place, at the wrong time and playing the wrong type of cricket.
England’s seven One-Day International (ODI) tour of Sri Lanka has all the potential to be a complete disaster. First of all it serves no purpose. It doesn’t prepare for the World Cup next year as this tour will be on low, slow Sri Lankan pitches when the World Cup will be played on fast, bouncy Australian ones. Nor does it prepare for next year’s Ashes series as England are playing no Tests. In fact, England will play no Tests between August this year and April next year. That is the longest time they have gone without playing a Test since August 1988-June 1989 – and that was only because a tour of India was cancelled. You have to go back to September 1975-June 1976 for a longer planned break from Tests. England are only playing ODIs between now and next April. Every other Test playing country is playing Tests this winter. England’s plan is either very clever or very stupid.
The tour is a problem for England in another way. England’s ODI form in 2014 is not good – won 7 lost 11 – and it is even worse as two of the wins were in dead rubbers and one against Scotland’s part-timers. So they could do with winning this series to boost confidence. The problem here is that what wins in Sri Lanka is not guaranteed to work in Australia. An example. Moeen Ali will probably open for England as they reckon – correctly – they will need two spinners in Sri Lanka. But they won’t need two in Australia – and even if Moeen comes off in Sri Lanka he might not be the most suitable candidate in Australia. He struggled during the summer against the short-pitched ball and the 95 mph Mitchell Johnson will scent easy meat. They should persevere with young Alex Hales who they look like dropping after just four games. A classic example of England’s “hire and fire” approach to ODI selection.
And all this assumes cricket takes place. November/December is the monsoon season in Sri Lanka and it can rain heavily. In the last three years that Sri Lanka have hosted ODIs in November/December (2010, 2012 and last year) thirteen should have been played. As it turned out, the weather in 2010 was so bad the five ODIs were postponed until January. In 2012 and 2013 eight ODIs were played – of which three didn’t produce a result and five more produced a result but had to be reduced from 50-overs a side. In other words in the last four years not one 50-over a side ODI has been played in Sri Lanka at this time of year. They have all either been reduced or abandoned. And England’s tour has not got off to a good start weather wise. Their first warm-up game was reduced to 43 overs from 50 and the second one never got started. if this pattern continues the only skill England will be able to improve is that of sitting and watching the rain fall!
England should not be touring Sri Lanka right now (they should have toured in March this year. it would have been a perfect place to prepare for the World 20-20 in Bangladesh). What they should have been doing is touring South Africa – and playing Test cricket. This makes so much sense I’m not surprised the ECB didn’t think of this. First of all England are over due a tour of South Africa – they haven’t been since 2009-10. Secondly the conditions in South Africa are as near as you can get to Australia without playing in Australia. Thirdly the world’s best Test team would have tested how much England really have improved as a Test team. And it would ease next year’s schedule which is overloaded. Between April 17th next year and January 26th 2016 England will play SEVENTEEN Tests against five countries (West Indies, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa). God knows how tired the players will be after that little lot. The sensible thing would have been to go to South Africa this year and cut that schedule down. I also think England’s two best Test players – captain Alistair Cook and bowler James Anderson – needed to be rested from the ODIs to save them for next year’s Tests. Besides neither are as good ODI players as they are Test players and keeping Cook as ODI captain resembles keeping Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party. In both cases it seriously reduces their chances of winning in 2015 and only gives hope to their opponents . In fact with Cook as captain England have no chance of winning the World Cup. In an era where batsmen can score 264 runs in an ODI innings – as Rohit Sharma has shown for India – Cook is an analogue batsman in a digital age. A relic. He should be replaced by Eoin Morgan who is more in tune with the ODI game as it is played in the rest of the world – who play it in a totally different style to England.
This Sri Lanka tour has all the potential of a disaster. The very fact it is taking place at all shows up the ECB’s incompetence. And that is why among the three England teams that are playing in major World Cups next year (women’s football and rugby union being the other two) the cricket team has by far the least chance of doing well.

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