Balancing Act

22 02 2008

Yesterday I spoke about an attitude problem with the England cricket team, an attitude problem I believe starts with the selection policies. I hinted at this with my comments regarding Dimi Mascarenhas, but I felt the topic was deserving of a post of its own, so today I’ll go into more detail. Apologies to my North American readers who don’t really get cricket. It’s like Baseball but better.

My thinking on this matter really began with Mascarenhas not getting a bat in Napier so it’s worth going back to that point. Some might say they didn’t want to tinker with the batting lineup but according to the teamsheet Dimi was due to come in ahead of Luke Wright. If that was an error on the teamsheet then I have to ask why Mascarenhas is even in the team. He’s a decent player but he’s not an amazing bowler or anything.

Unless he’s expected to bat, England must go with a specialist bowler. England’s team sheet is hugely unbalanced in favour of batting, with too many “bit part” bowlers who are relied upon to “bat a bit”. That shows a distinct lack of faith in the top order and worse yet, it’s planning for failure. It’s the “what if the top order collapses?” school of thinking rather than the more successful “what if the top order does its job?” one.

Of course any side has to have a contingency plan for when things don’t go according to plan but the problem comes when this becomes “Plan A” rather than “Plan B”. In this case when things do go according to plan (such as the batsmen racking up 340 and being in a position where they should have scored even more) you can, as happened, tie a match you should win. The worst case didn’t happen, the tail didn’t have to wag, and by sacrificing bowling for a bit of batting England were unable to defend the total.

If further proof were needed, Mascarenhas didn’t even bowl out his 10 overs in a match which went down to the full 50. Either he’s in the side as an all-rounder, in which case he should have come in to bat sooner, or he’s in the side as a bowler, in which case he should have bowled his overs out. The fact is he’s not good enough to be in the team as a specialist bowler. He’s an all-rounder, he needs to come in earlier, and England need to consider promoting him when in a commanding position, as they had in Napier.

A good selection policy for one day cricket is four specialist bowlers with an all rounder and perhaps a couple of batsmen who can bowl a little. For a comparison look at Australia, with Bracken, Lee, Johnson and Hogg all selected as specialist bowlers. The fact that Hogg, Lee and Johnson can all bat pretty well is a huge added bonus but it’s not why they’re selected. If Australia had followed English selection policy someone like Glenn McGrath, a truly legendary bowler, would never have played. That’s insane.

England seem to think that they need to bat down to eleven. Which has a shred of truth to it, look at Australia batting strongly all the way down (even Bracken can hold up an end). The difference is that they have the resources to bat that deep without sacrificing the bowling. Lee, for example, is selected because he’s an amazing bowler. Fortunately for Australia he happens to be a fine batsman and an excellent fielder too.

Were I selecting the England side Broad, Sidebottom and Anderson would be joined by a fourth specialist bowler, either Tremlett (in seam-friendly conditions) or Swann (his batting is an added bonus but I’d be selecting him as a specialist spinner). Wright and Mascarenhas should be competing for the all rounder spot. Neither can be relied on to bowl ten overs, and with Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood and Shah fixtures in that middle order there’s no place for another specialist batsman, if the side is to remain balanced.

That is the key. Whatever England do they must restore balance.


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