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How big an overhaul does English cricket need?


It feels like the Ashes is already over. The average pundit will know that the urn has been retained by Australia after a tormentful 12 days for England in their near-impossible turned absolutely-not-possible to win Ashes campaign.

Because of the lack of quality in the losing side, it is not quite as exciting to look forward to two more Tests in a series that is already won; except to see what cricketing innovations can be tried on the field by the home team and if they can sink England further into the abyss.

All the talk about Mitchell Swepson and Usman Khawaja joining the team are luxuries that can be enjoyed by a team already in the front seat looking pretty, watching the sunset.

Frankly, the current Test match at Johannesburg between India and South Africa actually holds more keys to an exciting series; big players out of form, South Africa’s pace battery, India’s pace battery, Rishabh Pant’s batting and the exciting pitches on offer.

But one result worth discussing before the Sydney Test is the current decimation of English cricket.

An Ashes series is always the turnaround series for change in England; and also for Australia (when they lose). It seems to be the precursor for systematic and personnel changes as it holds a larger financial stake on the ECB’s balance sheet. At least it is a positive sign for Test cricket – if the ECB did not care they would just let the current rot continue.

So, even though the English Test team can perform pathetically at home against New Zealand and India, the real changes start when an Ashes series is lost. The 2013-14 Mitchell Johnson series will be remembered for the retirements and axeings of many key figures within the English team that once made it the top-ranked Test team in the world: Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott.

Kevin Pietersen of England hits out

Kevin Pietersen (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

This time around, the team is fairly young, but an overhauling is still needed.

Since no one can be fired, the question goes deeper towards the fundamentals: is first class cricket in England adequate enough to prepare these players for Test cricket? I don’t know much about County cricket except that it makes good Test players better, kicks out Kolpak players with the start of Brexit and that some of its clubs are terrible at handling allegations of institutional racism.

Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva and Marnus Labuschagne have all credited County cricket in England as a positive force in their cricketing careers. And Labuschagne is a recent addition to that list. So, how serious is Kevin Pietersen when he says his 355 not out for Surrey in 2015 is because County cricket is too easy?

It turns out KP is not just exaggerating, as others have pointed out similar flaws. He suggested what the first class competition should look like: a red-ball version of The Hundred format in England. His comments spur the idea that first class cricketers in England don’t get paid adequately and therefore the talent is lost when there are T20 competitions around the world which are more lucrative.

Michael Atherton suggested a more specific revamping of the first class competition structure, James Anderson has suggested County pitches need to improve and Joe Root has blatantly said that the Test team is a reflection of the state of their first class structure: horrible. With all these names throwing weight towards to the argument, a swift change in motion is the only course of action.

Before we throw all our wrath in the English first class game, let’s not forget there are countries where the first class structure is actually counter-productive to developing the best players in the country.

One has to look no further than the failure in the first class cricket system in Sri Lanka. It is a well-publicised exercise of power and control within the cricket board that has produced sub-par first class competitions and inhibited the development of future cricketers.

England are nowhere near this, still explaining their rankings as the fourth best Test team in the world. New methods will, however, have to be tried out.

It was Albert Einstein who produced the famous quote about insanity being the result of doing the same action several times and expecting a different outcome. England have the cricketing and financial resources to make changes and expect a better outcome. We can even go as far to say our game of Test cricket depends on it.

Zak Crawley bats.

Zak Crawley bats during day one of the third Ashes Test. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

They have already done it once, when the white-ball format was in dire straits after the shock exit from a few World Cups back after losing to Bangladesh. Since then, England have been superlative in the white-ball forum, with their players being the most highly sought out players by franchises the world over.

Since then, the scales have overtipped for the ECB, where the importance of the white-ball game has outweighed the red-ball game. It is time for them to bring this back in check.

And can we take a break from blaming Joe Root for this team’s misfortunes? Revoking captaincies after losing Ashes series is barely surprising, but this bloke has tried. It just seems that other teammates have let him down.

Hearing the support from Ben Stokes from him to stay on cannot understate how respected he is the English dressing room. Will promoting Ben Stokes to captain really make a difference, anyway? He nearly missed the Ashes due to a break from mental health and dumping the captaincy on him does not seem to align with those decisions.

And to the other teammates in the English team around Root: if playing cricket at this level really is the education they never got from their domestic structure, they better learn quick. In general, there is a difference between first class cricket and Test cricket; the intensity, performances on the big stage, more rigorous battle within battles and not to mention the added pressure for playing for your nation.

If it is any comfort, an adequate first class record does not even guarantee translation onto the big stage; English players like Mark Ramprakash come to mind. Maybe this group can rise above the failings of their domestic structure within the next few years and come back to Australia a better team.

A 5-0 score-line does not look too unimaginable from an Australian perspective. It might be 4-0 with how COVID plays out for the last Test.

For the England players who have to go out and play tomorrow, we wish them luck. It must not be easy while the entire cricketing structure where you were born from is being questioned.





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