Crisitunity knocks for England

  • By: Dave Tickner
  • Last Updated: January 27 2014, 11:42 GMT

Dave Tickner says Eoin Morgan and others on the England fringe can benefit from the disastrous Ashes tour.

Morgan: Could get another crack at Test cricket after England's Ashes failure
Morgan: Could get another crack at Test cricket after England's Ashes failure

Lisa: “Look on the bright side, Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?”
Homer: “Yes! Crisitunity!”

After a harrowing tour of Australia that featured a solitary international victory, five Test thrashings, two of the silliest ODI defeats ever recorded by a team that isn't Pakistan and, as a final insult that surely breaches all manner of human rights legislation, three Twenty20 internationals still to play, England are a shambles.

England are proud to never know what their best ODI team is, because they deliberately never pick their best ODI team, and remain steadfastly as far away from knowing as ever.

But now, even a Test team largely set in stone for the last four years contains myriad uncertainties.

There might have been the odd doubt over a sixth batsman here or a third seamer there, but naming England's Test team has been a generally straightforward task these past few years.

You'd probably have to go back to the darkest days of the mid 1990s to find a time when you could confidently predict as few as five of the men to play in England's next Test match.

Yet here we are. Beyond Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, everything else is up for grabs.

Obviously, Kevin Pietersen should be a sixth certain selection, but that's another story altogether, one in which the hierarchy is not only shamefully failing to weep with relief and joy that their best player has publicly committed himself to playing on but is actively annoyed about it.

The upshot of disastrous cricket and panicked scapegoating is that England right now know less than half their Test side, and of that less-than-half-a-side the only player in decent form is the one who's played just four Tests.

That's a crisis.

But it leaves six spots up for grabs over the coming months. And if you're an English cricketer, there's a Test spot open for you whatever your role. England need an opener, two middle-order batsmen, a keeper, a spinner and a third seamer.

That's a crisitunity.

Batsmen and pacemen, keepers and spinners; young and old, new to international cricket or seeking a second chance. Places are open to all. Even current incumbents like Michael Carberry and Scott Borthwick or key tour-from-hell victims Joe Root and Matt Prior are firmly in the equation.

Admit it, it's exciting. The lure of the unknown and unpredictable is strong.

Even at their 2011 peak, England were a team respected rather than adored. Too rigid, too robotic, too formulaic to truly get the juices flowing. It was and is a harsh assessment, but England have often been portrayed as automata.

They were seen as blandly, boringly successful, like the local estate agent opening a second branch in the neighbouring village.

In defeat, though, England have been enthralling and spectacular. You can say what you like about England's efforts this winter - and to do so properly will require at least four or five words that would make even Dave Warner blush - but you cannot say they've been bland. Or boring.

And now this dramatic fall leaves uncertainty about how England will go about trying to rectify things. That creates excitement as well as trepidation.

Anyone on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka could find themselves in the Test team with a run of decent scores or a bunch of wickets. Anyone who makes a good start to the domestic season, or who shines on the West Indies tour, or at the World Twenty20, could be in with a chance of Test selection.

Suddenly, all things seem possible. England are no longer held back by the restraints of success; so epic, so vast, was the scale of their humiliation they can now do almost anything and it will be seen as progress. The only team England could name for the first Test against Sri Lanka next summer that would cause significant murmurings and unrest would be an unchanged one, or one with Ravi Bopara in it.

In the midst of the Ashes debacle, we saw the potential benefits of crisitunity in even the bleakest moments. Jonathan Trott's departure from the tour was perhaps the single biggest setback England suffered in the Ashes. It upset the team, forcing a destabilising rejigging of the batting order from which England never really recovered, and upset the players more than they perhaps realised or let on at the time.

But from the great setback of Trott's departure came the great hope of Ashes Bright Spot Ben Stokes.

England now have the freedom to make similarly bold selections elsewhere knowing that the overwhelming demand that something, anything, be done means any such selections will face minimal criticism.

And the players who get such chances will not be burdened by the pressure and demand for instant success that comes from joining a team at the top of its game.

An obvious example of one who has wilted before but could flourish now is Eoin Morgan, who has begun the process already be being consistently excellent in the one-day series.

His ODI and Twenty20 stats for England are top class, but his Test career looked destined for the bulging 'What if?' file of England Test cricketers. Not a total failure, but certainly not a success, and an unpleasant nagging feeling that it could and should have produced so much more.

Morgan's 16 Tests have produced two centuries - one a genuinely high-class effort against a great Pakistan attack in 2010 and the other a gift from a broken India in 2011 - yet only 700 runs in total at a shade over 30. Not great numbers then, but it was clear during stage one of his now potentially-rekindled Test career that he was unsure whether he should be batting like Eoin Morgan, or batting like a Proper Test Batsman.

The great tragedy, of course, is that there is really no such thing as a Proper Test Batsman, except in the minds of people who still insist Kevin Pietersen isn't one despite 8000 runs that say different. If such a thing as a Proper Test Batsman exists, it is simply one who is successful. There is no correct way of scoring Test runs.

This uncertainty took away Morgan's greatest gift as a batsman and left him unable to become the very thing he was trying to be. The clarity of thought and precision of execution that marked him out as a one-day great was lost.

With mind cluttered and technique muddled, he lost his way until, by the time he was (rightly) dropped after the Pakistan series in the UAE, he wasn't even trying to bat like a Proper Test Batsman any more but had instead embarked on a fascinating but, in hindsight, deeply flawed experiment to see if it was possible to score runs while sitting down.

Now, though, the way is clear for Morgan to not only return to Test cricket but also enjoy a significant grace period. With England's methods having gone under Down Under, Morgan should see that he need not conform to some intangible, irrelevant concept of Proper Batting. He can be free to bat like Eoin Morgan, which is something he's very good at.

Morgan's return to the Test side is even more important if England do, like massive idiots, decide to jettison Pietersen to leave their vanilla batting line-up in even greater need of colour and flavour. Even when unsure of what exactly he was supposed to be doing, Morgan still scored those 700 Test runs at 54 per 100 balls, a rate bettered only by Pietersen and Prior of the top-seven options currently available.

Morgan may be the most obvious example, but he is just one of many. Stokes has already taken the chance. Sussex quick Chris Jordan has begun work on putting together a decent case in the ODIs. Ditto Jos Buttler.

For newcomers like Your Jamie Overtons or the Sam Robsons Of This World, a door has been opened. For, say, Graham Onions or Nick Compton, who may have thought their last chance had gone, or a player like James Taylor who had apparently lost his place near the head of the cab rank, things suddenly look brighter.

For all, crisitunity knocks.


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