It is becoming a depressingly familiar scenario for followers of England cricket these days. In just two years they have gone from being the number one team in the world to a team that is being outplayed and outfought by average Sri Lankan and Indian teams in their own back yard.
The team looks jaded and short on confidence and it seems as if nothing short of wholesale changes will be enough to breathe life into a faltering England. They now need to follow through on what they did with Kevin Pietersen and drop other deadwood or the selectors risk being accused of hypocrisy.
Collectively under performing
It is one thing having a side made up of ‘team players’, but when the whole team is underperforming and short on confidence, there is no individual to step up and grab the game by the scruff of the neck and carry the team to the finish line. If players are underperforming for a significant period of time, perhaps it is time to give others a chance.
So what can be done to counter this malaise that appears to have taken over the England camp?
First and foremost, there needs to be a change at the top. England are starting to play as they did in the 90's and so it could be argued that they need the sort of captain that started to drag them out of that state of consistent lack of form, a Nasser Hussain type figure.
A great player Cook may be, but he never looks like a leader. He is a captain for the good times and not one for dragging the best out of his players when the chips are down, unlike Hussain and even Vaughan regularly did.
This is not to say that Cook needs to be dropped from the team entirely, he is still the most accomplished and arguably most talented batsman in the side by a considerable distance.
I would simply argue that it might be time to remove the burden of captaincy from him and give another of the experienced players in the team an opportunity. Ian Bell, for example may thrive in the role, and there is always the opportunity to bring in the likes of Eoin Morgan, already a captain for England in one-day cricket.
Some may say that Morgan has had his chance in Test cricket and failed, but it must be remembered, that was when they had a world beating team.
This current side looks both out of ideas in the middle order and extremely one paced, Morgan may well be the man to bring that missing spark back.
Having said that, not all the blame can lay at the feet of the captain. All of his senior players have either retired or lost form in the last few months. Any team that loses Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, along with the likes of Ian Bell, James Anderson and Matt Prior all losing form, is going to struggle, and thus Cook’s plight is understandable.
Of these players lacking form, the easiest to solve is Matt Prior. England have a young, extremely talented wicketkeeper batsman who has already proved himself on the big stage in Jos Butler. With England lacking a spinner to whom only Prior can keep, there would appear to be no obstacle to Butler coming in and claiming the gloves as his own in the next Test.
Aside from Morgan and Butler potentially coming in to replace Prior and perhaps Ben Stokes, it is difficult to change the batting line-up too much as they have, with the exception of Cook and Bell, scored fairly recent centuries for the team.
The main problem would appear to lie with the bowling. There has been little change from the side that could bowl sides out in any conditions without breaking a sweat and yet the bowlers all seem both jaded and laboured.
Anderson seems incapable of bowling the sort of length that made him the best swing bowler in the world just last year, while Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett are doing little to justify their inclusion, other than very occasional glimpses of what saw them selected in the first place. Their biggest problem, however, is the lack of a controlling spinner and a subsequent overreliance on quick bowling.
Simon Kerrigan is still probably too young to be brought in to the team again after his hammering by Australia last year, but there is a sensible argument to be made for either bringing in the specialist Monty Panesar, who can always be relied upon to do a job, or the likes of Adil Rashid, who is a good leg spin bowler who can also bat a bit; almost the inverse of Moeen Ali.
The batting has been less of an issue and so it may be tempting to opt for the more experienced spin bowling of Panesar if the selectors choose to go for a specialist in the next Test.
What England really need at this juncture is a wicket taker, and that is what Steven Finn has always been. At this moment in time it would not be unreasonable to drop either Plunkett or Broad, both of who look out of ideas, and bring in Finn.
He was originally dropped from the side for being clumsy and too expensive, but he was always a strike bowler capable of bowling that magic delivery to remove stubborn batsmen.
At the moment England are a team that struggle to bowl the opposition out in even the most favourable conditions, and anyone that can come into the team as a strike bowler cannot hurt.
If a team is struggling to bowl the opposition out, wickets are more important than runs in the long run anyway and as such it may be time for Finn to get that second chance for which many have been calling.
It would appear, then, that England are a team very much on the downslope, struggling to beat inexperienced subcontinental sides, in conditions where they have traditionally struggled.
Whilst there is no need to panic, it is now necessary to do to this team what all great teams have had to do in the past. It is a painful process, but the deadwood needs to be pruned so that new buds can spring forward and take their place.
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