Test Cricket’s changed, obviously – gone to the nightclub with a dodgy pipe. But whilst it sits there in Trap 3, head pleasantly whirling, feet gently twirling, those of us on the edge of all this do just need to nip out occasionally from the narcotic fug, to either inhale great puritanical clouds of insight – thankyou , Sir Geoffrey – or dart to the bar for a discombombulating chaser.
Well look how else are we to wrap this particular now, other than with blancmange-grade tortillas speaking loudly and in many tongues around the theme of IN-TOXI-CAYY-SHUNN? Tests – formerly the playground of gentlemen so starchily prosaic they may actually have been dead – now done in three, anarchic days. Batsmen windmilling psychotically at anything within arm’s reach. Crowds racily, indiscriminately, Stag Nightingly drunk. Glory and despair raging through our consciousness like a biblical torrent filmed by Nic Roeg. With a Stars on 45 backing track. How’s your head, dude?
Somewhere in this (literally) fabulous flux there’s a historic sporting contest – a cause. Which I think we still love and the essence of which maybe remains(?)
In fact it unquestionably remains; the cricket – the drama – however, is spectacularly different.
But do we like it? Surely most of us do – with a significant caveat or twelve- about whatever it is that’s replaced that traditional turgidity in the Getting On Our Wicks stakes.
With me that’s around the batting, I suppose and the whole positivity machismo. The sense that (let’s say England) have to ‘express themselves’. Clearly and obviously and wonderfully there is a truth in this notion that freeing up players to play is both a key role for the coach and (often) central to individual confidence. England have rightly signalled an intent towards dynamism which players and public alike are enjoying. (Remember that?)
In terms of selection a) Buttler (despite being weirdly hesitant by his standards in recent innings) is all about newness and switch-hitting counterattack and b) Moeen at 8 – 8, for chrissakes! – practically bullies the blokes from 3 to 7 into Belligerent Barsted Mode because they know he can bat for a day if things go pear-shaped. And c) (if we’re talking in essences again) every carve or drive from the likes of Root embodies this deliberately transformative policy. ‘Back yourself, bro. Back yourself!’
In other words this wild new wotsit is strategically sound as well as flushed with testosterone. As it should be. Farbrace and Bayliss are no mugs. England have caught up with the mood of things in limited overs and sprung fearlessly forward from there. Which is great, right? We’re catching up – right up. Finally.
It is all great but it’s also simplistic. And I hear the hand of the Sports Psycho Militia in all this. In their urgency to overhaul the humour or the approach of England Cricket, people have been sucked in to believing their own publicity/disappearing up their own backsides – all that.
There’s a crowd of folks doing stuff. It’s inevitably blokey and charged and focussed. There will be team meeting after team meeting where (and I’m not being cynical) important things will be said but this melee of egos and views creates difficulties. Too many voices, too much pressure to say something impactful and positive. Meaning too much freeing up and – despite the evidence from Edgbaston and strangely counter-somethingly? – not enough good Test cricket.
Huge holes in that argument. Firstly because plainly England played enough good Test cricket to blow Australia – the world number ones – away. Secondly because on the one hand I’m arguing for positivity (yes I am!) and on the other shredding its alleged fragility. Let’s try to deal with some of that.
Both Bell and Root were heroes at Edgbaston and I not only cheered them but crossed my fingers and willed it to be those two stylishly knocking off the winning runs. I respect Bell’s class hugely and like the rest of the universe I’m in love with Root’s magnificent, boyish presence.
And yet there were moments when I coulda tanned their backsides with a hazel stick; both were out, embarrassingly, mindlessly cheaply when the moment for called for further building. Building towards an unassailable total – building like you do against anybody in a Test Match.
Bell skied one when playing beautifully and Root reached ludicrously for a ball pitched in Humberside and they both got out. Out when England needed them in. In to build 400 because that was necessary at that time – a lead, an emphatic, hopefully demoralizing lead over Australia in the Ashes.
The fact that Australia’s first innings capitulation had put England in the box seat in no way abrogates the responsibility towards gathering a match-winning total. The fact that England bowled outstandingly again in the Oz second innings and they simply couldn’t cope is/was a dreamland barely within contemplation. Not even by the boy Finn – to whom we all send the choicest of hugs, yes?
So yes I am arguing that even though England were already on top and Bell and Root (for example) ‘backed themselves’ in exactly the manner they have been prompted to do, this approach was flawed; they were wrong to be so cavalier.
Even in the knowledge and agreement that fellas behind were primed to come to the rescue. Even when England win the game by a street.
Test cricket is a test over time and through conditions. You look to maximise score as well as establish superiority in terms of momentum/body language/team psyche. It’s not all about making points through hitting. How ‘bout if Bell goes on to make 160 in that first innings and stands there twiddling his bat, humming between balls as Starc snorts around him? How ‘bout if Root leaves the daft-wide ones – all of them, until the match situation swings entirely England’s way – and picks out the lush drives or the easy pulls?
In Test cricket you choose your time and you do that as part of your (reasonably sophisticated) Game Plan. There is perspective and there is consideration amongst the swash and buckle.
I suspect that because of the flood of positivism and the commitment towards ‘making a statement’, Bell and Root and England Cricket PLC were clear that they had licence to go get the Australian attack. Whenever/wherever the ball landed, if they felt good about it. This is a legitimate tactic; it’s just not intelligent enough. Their gamble – which worked, which I almost loved – was an indulgence. Wickets were always likely to fall in clusters in the game, so unsexy as it sounds… take account for that. Why fall for the notion that we have to be as ‘aggressive’ as the Australians? Why not play and build and go sailing past that dumb machismo?
Why not play better cricket, in fact?