The Light Roller: Will the New Year herald a new start for England?

Diary of a cricket obsessive
  • @willjgore

The rut is unlikely to end at Sydney

The awful thing about England's latest dismal defeat was that it was so utterly unsurprising: a few good sessions thoroughly undermined by others that were as poor as anything seen on this tour.

All club cricketers will know that feeling of being in a rut so deep that it seems impossible to climb out. Poor results beget a lack of confidence. Low confidence has an adverse impact on performance. Dropped catches and soft dismissals are symptoms of this kind of downward spiral.

A couple of brilliant individual performances might be enough to change the pattern. But with one Ashes test to play it's hard to see where those will come from insofar as England are concerned. There are too many demoralised souls and, try as they might, a consolation win in Sydney may now be beyond them.

Central contracts have limited captaincy alternatives

The radical response to this Ashes thumping would of course be to seek a change of leadership. But Andy Flower wants to carry on and can point to a strong track record in his defence against criticism. Alastair Cook is still relatively inexperienced and this is his first bad defeat.

Geoff Boycott's proposition that tactical nous is something that you can't learn - and indeed that you have to be born with! - seems a little extreme. But it is true to say that Cook is neither instinctive, like Michael Clarke, nor as decisive in his plans as Andrew Strauss appeared to be. When he was scoring shedloads of runs, that didn't so much matter. Without a century in 18 innings, his tactical nous is suddenly a hot topic.

There are few alternatives, however, which itself is concerning. Central contracts mean that fewer England players now have captaincy experience. Kevin Pietersen is probably distrusted after his last go; Ian Bell is largely untested. And in any case, England are sufficiently in transition for ECB chiefs to conclude that changes in leadership are a step too far.

Australia captain Michael Clarke

Bring in Borthwick - but don't expect an English Warne

As for playing personnel more generally, there could be any number of the current squad who will wonder whether they are likely to line up against the Sri Lankans in June. More immediately, it surely makes sense to bring in Scott Borthwick for the next test against Australia. Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar don't feel like tomorrow's men and they might both be vulnerable.

Borthwick is clearly not the finished article but Sydney will suit him more than Chester-le-Street. He will also bring a much needed breath of fresh air to the side. With Stokes and Root he could be part of the team's backbone for years to come.

Yet there are dangers. Playing in the final test of a series can leave a lasting impression - remember Jonathan Trott at the Oval in 2009. But it may not be positive - see Kerrigan and Woakes at the same venue last summer. And for any international leg-spinner the shadow of Shane Warne still looms large. Since his feats are unlikely ever to be emulated, we may be better off hoping that Borthwick proves himself an improvement on Ian Salisbury, the last of the breed to take test wickets for England. And if he is picked, he needs to be given a proper crack of the whip.

For any international leg-spinner the shadow of Shane Warne still looms large

Kallis was great but insufficiently flawed

It is perhaps true that no cricketer has impressed more than Jacques Kallis. By allying natural talent and hard graft he became the perfect cricketer. A century - and victory - in his final test match was inevitable. Had he gone on for two or three more years it is unlikely that he would have stopped scoring runs.

It has been said that Kallis even tempered some of his more flamboyant edges because he determined that his role in the teams he played in was to be Mr Reliable. The many glowing tributes are an indicator of his greatness.

But for many spectators Kallis won't be remembered in the same bracket as Lara or Tendulkar, Warne or Donald, or even Freddie Flintoff to think of a contemporary all-rounder. Fans want to be impressed by greatness, but most of all they want to be beguiled by genius. Kallis, apparently such an unemotional cricketer, had too few flaws to really seduce at least this onlooker.

Kallis won't be remembered in the same bracket as Lara or Tendulkar, Warne or Donald, or even Freddie Flintoff to think of a contemporary all-rounder