10.12.06

Gathering Shadows

So much has been written and said about team selection, Duncan Fletcher, Ashley Giles, Monty Panesar, Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan and the past, present and future of English cricket since the Adelaide capitulation last Tuesday that it's easy to lose track of where your own opinions begin and where those of other people end.

Personally I could understand the logic of starting the tour with Giles in the side, if only because his presence shortens the tail to a far greater degree than that of Panesar (or Anderson or Mahmood for that matter). And it must be remembered that he made useful contributions with the bat in the first three innings of the series. However, it was asking a lot of someone who has never been a consistently threatening bowler at Test level to return to the side after a year's absence and prove penetrative on unresponsive wickets against some of the best players of spin in the world. And so it has proved. Giles has been handled with ease by all the Australian batsmen and with disdain by their two best players, Ponting and Hussey. Overall, though, there's little question in my mind that two spinners should have been played at Adelaide, and, if only one was required for Brisbane, it should have been Panesar. The batting problem could have been eased by playing Sajid Mahmood instead of Jimmy Anderson, who's also looked utterly impotent. Mahmood has had an inconsistent England career so far but he's a better batsman than Anderson and could hardly have been more innocuous with the ball.

With all that said, I'm very dubious about the hype being attached to Panesar by the perenially impulsive British media, many of whom (who never gave a damn about cricket until August 2005) seem to feel that he's a panacea for all England's problems. He's an extremely promising bowler, England's best spin discovery for generations, but his figures in the few games he's played in Australia have not been especially impressive, indicating that he's taking time to adapt to conditions which are alien and unhelpful to him. Also, in case anyone hasn't noticed, he's a rather limited batsman (if more talented than he's given credit for) and the main reason England lost in Adelaide was because the batting failed on the final day. It's important that his potential value to the side is kept in perspective or the age-old tendency of the British media to build people up with excessive and unjust praise before knocking them down with withering and unjust criticism will come into view again.

A further aspect of this which has been doing the rounds in Britain is the story that Duncan Fletcher, who has hitherto taken all the blame for the omission of Panesar, in fact wanted him in the Adelaide team but was overruled by his captain. Nobody - except Duncan and Freddie - knows the exact truth of this, and we'll have to wait for Duncan's autobiography to (perhaps) find out, but, if that was the case it points to a classic blind spot of the modern English cricketer - the way in which seam bowlers, however mediocre, are valued more highly than spinners.

And Flintoff has history here, don't forget. Last May, in Panesar's first Test in this country, he gave him just 27 overs out of 199 in a Sri Lankan total of 537, while at the same time bowling himself into the ground. All Panesar's successes later in the summer came under the leadership of Andrew Strauss. Even allowing for Fletcher's sometimes grudging attitude towards Panesar last summer, it may just be Flintoff, and not Fletcher, who has a blind spot when it comes to Monty's potential.

Whatever the case, it's hard to escape the feeling that the shadows are gathering on Fletcher's term of office as England coach. It's virtually inconceivable that the Ashes can be retained now and further humiliation awaits at the World Cup. Fletcher has been an incredibly influential figure in the renaissance of English cricket these past seven years, but am I the only person who feels that we may be at the point where England require a little more than his grim-faced, pedestrian conservatism?

1 comment:

Sportingo said...

Greetings -- great article on cricket. Any interest in publishing on the topic?

michelle@sportingo.com

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