Cricket: Shortcomings exposed

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the same old story with the England batting. Five of the six specialist batsmen made a good start but none of them went on to reach even fifty and England surrendered a first innings lead of 102 to Australia which will almost certainly be decisive on a pitch which is increasingly taking spin.

Winning the toss made it highly likely that Australia will win the match, and England's batting on the second day confirmed this inescapable feeling.

It was a day's cricket which illustrated some of the serious shortcomings of England's current batting and which could only make one wonder what all those coaches and advisers are up to in the England dressing room. There is an extraordinary lack of common sense about some of the things that go on out in the middle which comes down to a lack of discipline in England's cricket.

To start with, England's batsmen appear not have been taught to realise the importance of the single. If a side is going to build up a big total, it is extremely important that singles are played for and run. If batsmen are only going to rely on the big strokes, they will find that they are consistently short of runs. How often it is that big strokes do not achieve their objective!

The scoreboard needs to be constantly kept moving by batsmen who are picking up singles to upset the bowlers and the fielders and, above all, to rotate the strike.

England, in this innings, were going to be tortured by Australia's three spinners and they had to do their best to help each other and to make it as easy for themselves as they possibly could.

When a batsman is struggling as some did against Stuart MacGill's leg spin and Colin Miller's off spin, it is crucial that he should remember the importance of getting himself off the strike and giving his partner the chance to help. His partner too, should be on the lookout for a quick single which would enable him to get down to the business end and relieve the pressure.

It always makes life difficult for bowlers who are trying to wage a campaign against a particular batsman to find that he is constantly escaping to the other end.

When singles are continually being run, it often happens that a fielding side which is less than intense begins to look ragged. Overthrows and misfields begin to appear and these all help to lift the pressure off the batsmen.

The fielders, like the bowlers and the opposing captain, must be put under as much pressure as possible.

In England's first innings in this Test Match, this simply has not happened. During their entire innings, the England batsmen picked up only 41 singles and there was never any sign that they were deliberately playing for them.

The singles that were taken were run because they were there as a result of big shots that had failed or other strokes that had simply happened. They were never engineered by design.

If a side scores fifteen to twenty singles an hour, then over an innings of nearly six hours it will make a big difference to the total, and to the mental wellbeing of the batting side. The bowlers will likewise be disconcerted.

England were subjected to a painful demonstration of this by the Waugh twins on the first day of the match.

From the first ball to the last, they were busily engaged on the business of playing for, and of running, singles.

Not breakneck short singles but sensible singles to third man or fine leg or into the gaps in front of the wicket. The Waughs gave a wonderfully mature demonstration of how the playing for and the running of singles can benefit a batting side.

There were 22 singles in Steve Waugh's 96 and 31 in Mark's 121, and altogether a total of 73 off the bat in the innings. By the time extras had been counted the number would have been over 80, combined with all the attendant problems this will have caused England.

It is interesting too, that the Australian slips stand appreciably nearer the batsmen than their English counterparts and they also stand wider apart. I have lost count of the number of times one has said that if only the slips had been standing closer to the bat, catches would have carried.

I do not remember the Australians missing many. The more one watches England play, the more amazed one has become at their lack of thought and planning.