Thursday, August 18, 2011

England’s Perfect Equilibrium Takes Them To The Top of Test Cricket

At Edgbaston on Saturday 13th August 2011 England beat India by an innings and 242 runs, a mammoth victory that saw them climb to the top of the ICC test cricket rankings, replacing India at the top after their comprehensive 3-0 series victory.
Quite a feat, and to quantify that further, its scarcely two and a half years since Andy Flower was appointed Director of Cricket and Andrew Strauss became Captain of an England side languishing in sixth in the same ICC rankings.
In the past 2 years Flower and Strauss have transformed England into a well-oiled machine which has demolished Australia, Sri Lanka and now India in successive test series, winning 8 out of the 9 series the two have presided over, drawing only the 2009 tour of South Africa.
So how have Strauss and Flower orchestrated England’s masterplan? Let’s start by looking at the bowlers.
The term “hunting in packs” might be slightly clichéd these days but it does accurately describe how England go about their business with the ball. There isn’t necessarily a stand-out bowler that you would throw the cherry to to get a much-needed wicket as you would have in the Andrew Flintoff era perhaps. Instead pressure is built by the whole bowling attack, bowling consistent lines and lengths, asking questions of the batsmen with every ball, testing their patience and technique and not letting them settle or get a free hit at the other end.
Look at how England took Indian wickets Edgbaston. Apart from Dravid in the 1st innings, who got a snorter from Bresnan, the rest of the Indian batsmen gave their wickets away, lacking patience and not being able to cope with the short stuff that was served up. England bowled to plans and India obliged by succumbing to the pressure.
And we’re not talking about inexperienced batsmen here – England’s bowlers have dominated the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman, Gambhir and Dravid in this series, probing away on a consistent line outside off stump and not giving any runs away, waiting for the batsman to try and force the issue and make a mistake, which has invariably happened. If that’s failed, a few short balls has done the job, either way, India haven’t been able to cope with it.
And it doesn’t half help that England are the best fielding side in world cricket too right now. The bowlers know that any edge they induce is almost certain to be pouched. Imagine being an Indian bowler on the second evening at Edgbaston when Eoin Morgan was dropped at slip by the normally-dependable Rahul Dravid? No wonder Indian spirits were so low during that mammoth England innings in Birmingham – India had chances to make inroads, but they dropped a sack-full of chances.
Having a bowling attack like England’s certainly helps, but the batsmen still need to score runs, and right now England’s batting lineup are delivering some big scores. Alastair Cook has broken all sorts of records of late and is taking a lot of the plaudits right now, but all of the top 7 have contributed runs in the last year. Teams know England are capable of scoring colossal totals now and will wonder or even doubt that they’ll be able to compete with that.
I remember the days when England would struggle to pass 300 on a regular basis. Now it is the teams England play, not England themselves that falter with the bat.
Right now England have the perfect equilibrium between their batsmen and their bowlers; the batsmen are scoring big which gives the bowlers plenty to work with and the bowlers are running through batting lineups and giving their batsmen low targets to aim for. It’s a simple game when both components are firing!
Some people have said that England are top of a form of the game that is dying a death and that perhaps their opposition, rightly or wrongly aren’t as concerned about test cricket as they once were and as England still are. It’d be foolish not to acknowledge that fact, but at the same time England can only beat was is in front of them. Australia and India are undoubtedly going through transitional periods, but these things are all cyclical – they will be back. And don’t forget, Australia took great pleasure in tearing through England series after series, so we shouldn’t feel too bad for them!
For now England are top dog and deservedly so. With the first Test Championships taking place in England in 2013, they will be hoping for a long reign at the top of this great game.
Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1

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