Friday, November 22, 2013

I Saw This Coming

Or, I make a poorly reasoned argument on England’s collapse and show how little I really know

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. And in making the statement in the above headline, I know I am opening myself up to that declaration from readers. Because I never really told anybody that I could see this coming, so I have no proof that I suspected what was on the horizon.

The “this” I’m talking about is, of course, England’s collapse on day two of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane. And collapse is what it was. Not necessarily a self-induced collapse, but also not necessarily a collapse initiated by superior bowling.

Have I confused you yet?

As quick as Mitchell Johnson might have bowled, and as well as he bowled, he’s no quicker than Dale Steyn or some other international fast bowlers. And Nathan Lyons definitely isn’t any better than any other spinners out there. England have faced similar—perhaps even better—bowling than this.

However, England’s collapse was not necessarily self-induced by panic or fright or lack of preparation, either. Johnson and the other Aussies bowled very well. Give them credit.

So, if the collapse was not initiated by necessarily unstoppable bowling, or by slef-induced panic, what caused it? Aren’t those the only options?

In a word, no.

Let me take a quick break and explain something about myself. I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world. I follow cricket. I have in the past followed baseball. But when I choose to follow someone, it’s usually a bad experience for both sides. The baseball team I have been a fan of since college? The Chicago Cubs. The English domestic team I follow? Surrey. So you see I have a history of following teams with less than stellar results. Because of that, I have many times seen false high hopes dashed by reality. Because of that, I have come to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming disappointment.

My explanation about England’s collapse? Their batting isn’t as good as everyone has always said it is. Sure, they’ve hit high points. Cook, KP, and Bell in particular have scored some big runs. And they are talented. But over the past couple of years many of the England batsmen have been shown to get out to poor shots to less than devastating bowling. Many times. Just not often all at the same time. And that’s what happened here. Plain and simple. They’ve all been passing form issues back and forth, and they have all come together at the same time for a perfect storm of bad batting. Prior has been shocking of late; Root’s too-quick move to open may have done for him as well; Cook has been disappointing and KP … well, you just never know which KP you’re going to get. This time all the bad things that can happen simply did at once.

My contention (and it is only my theory—yours will be different and maybe better than mine), however, is that this is more than bad form. The problems with England’s batting have been masked by the occasional high points, and winning ways that have as much to do with the poor form of opponents as the talent of England. Don’t get me wrong, the England players are talented; I just think we are fooling ourselves if we think they are more talented than anyone else. I see a lot of good batsmen out there everywhere, and a lot of good bowlers shared around, as well.

For me, the question is: How do we move on? Can our talented batsmen rise above the woes, better themselves and become consistent performers? Perhaps day 3 or 4 will tell, or perhaps the next Test. But one thing is certain: England is, in my opinion, probably more talented in the batting department than Australia when everyone is firing on all cylinders. Let’s just hope they will all be firing on all cylinders at the same time.

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