England capitulate with a shrug of white-ball induced indifference | Andy Bull

The ECB hierarchy concentrated on winning the World Cup, and while that mission was accomplished the ruins of England’s Test batting was there for all to see at Headingley

There used to be thousands of lamplighters in London; these days there are just five left. British Gas keeps them on the payroll to work the stretch of Kensington Palace Gardens where English Heritage refused to install electric street lights. So they just about outnumber the surviving members of another of England’s dead professions, Test batsman, a job whose essential requirements seem almost entirely alien to this generation of players, who have been weaned on white-ball cricket and whose best players have spent the past two years worrying about nothing much other than winning the World Cup.

Patience and judgment seem to have as much relevance to them as a working knowledge of Betamax does.

This was the seventh time England have been bowled out for less than 150 in the past two years and the fifth time in the past six months. They have been blown away by swing bowling in New Zealand, where Trent Boult and Tim Southee rolled them for 58, bombed out by quicks in the West Indies, where Kemar Roach and Jason Holder skittled them for 77, bamboozled by medium pace at Lord’s, where Tim Murtagh turned them over for 85. One would think that by now the full range of English batting collapses had been seen but then they go and play like this, on a day like this, 67 all out in beautiful sunshine with the series on the line.

It was a shrug of an innings, exhausted and indifferent. England squandered every last advantage Headingley’s gods have to offer. They won the toss and had the best of the weather to bowl in, against a side who were missing their leading batsman, then turned up to play today in conditions one might dream about batting in. Australia, they say, bowled well. They did but only as well as one would expect any good Test side to do. Josh Hazlewood, 12.5 overs, five for 30, stuck to a line and length and let the English batsmen do the rest. The pertinent point was not that the bowlers asked so many questions of the batsmen but that the batsmen had so few of the answers.

It was like watching Monty Panesar square up to John Humphrys on Mastermind. “In an 1819 poem, what season of the year does Keats describe as ‘a season of mist and mellow fruitfulness?” Humphrys asked. “Oliver Twist” Panesar replied.

It was 15 minutes before lunch and James Pattinson said to Joe Denly, you have been in for 48 deliveries, your team are 45 for four and here is a full, wide ball that is going to fly harmlessly by your off stump. What do you do with it? Denly’s best guess, inevitably, was to try to blaze it through extra-cover for four. He sliced it behind to the wicketkeeper. This is only Denly’s sixth Test but he is 32 and has played 200 first‑class games.

England’s Jason Roy heads back to the pavilion after losing his wicket.
England’s Jason Roy heads back to the pavilion after losing his wicket. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

It was not just Denly. Jason Roy edged a drive to slip in the fourth over of the day, three balls after he had belted one through cover for four. Rory Burns flapped a wild hook at a bouncer that was sailing over his head. Ben Stokes stretched his bat out for a wide half-volley that he squirted through to slip. Jonny Bairstow poked at a short one. Jos Buttler patted a catch to a short extra-cover, conspicuously placed for exactly that shot. It took a good ball to get rid of England’s best batsman, Joe Root, but it felt as if the rest had done it to themselves. And, that, as all Radiohead fans know, is what really hurts.

It was not long ago that England knew how to do this stuff. In the last 10 years they have played 53 individual Test innings that lasted at least 250 deliveries. In the last two of those years, since Root took over the captaincy, they have played five of them. Three were by Alastair Cook, who has retired, the fourth by Keaton Jennings, who has been dropped, and the fifth was by Burns at Edgbaston this month. This is not to say Root’s leadership is responsible for this mess, although the captaincy seems to be weighing so heavily on him that he himself would surely have played a few more substantial innings in that time if he were back in the ranks.

Rather it is just that in the past two years this Test team have been so completely overshadowed by Eoin Morgan’s one-day side. In fact, the two of them have grown closer together than the England and Wales Cricket Board ever intended them to. When Andrew Strauss overhauled English cricket in 2015, he imagined they would grow into two separate teams in two separate streams, but as the last four years went on they started to blend together. They could not, but simply because the one-day team has been so much more successful. So the struggling Test team has looked to them for personnel and inspiration, even though their freewheeling philosophy, sell wickets cheap, pile runs high, is desperately ill-suited to this format.

At the same time they are only representing an English system that has been rejigged to put all the emphasis on white-ball cricket, where most of the county championship matches have been pushed out to the far ends of the season, and all the talk, all the thought and all the resources, have been concentrated on the World Cup and the launch of a new, shorter, format of the sport, the Hundred. Root, Stokes and Buttler were the ones playing the shots but the ECB’s executives, Strauss, Ashley Giles, Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, were the ones calling them. England won them the World Cup. Now the country is being reminded what they lost along the way.

Contributor

Andy Bull at Headingley

The GuardianTramp

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