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England is the Most Efficient Side

5 August 2011.

Let us praise England’s cricketers! Admittedly the Indians have played like duffers but focussing on their failings denies the victors their dues. Moreover even India at its best, might not have been good enough.

England has played vibrant and fighting cricket. The team has a reliable top order, a powerful middle, a lower region full of gusto, a feisty gloveman, tall fast bowlers and as many swingers as Carnaby Street. James Anderson has made the ball duck and dive whilst Tim Bresnan encapsulates the timelessness of the yeoman. Wisely retained, Stuart Broad has turned matches on their heads.

Anderson bowls in the Ashes 2009

James Anderson about to deliver the ball that Peter Siddle will edge behind to Matt Prior.
Photo ©: Nic Redhead from Birmingham, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Strength in depth

England also has strength in depth. Ordinarily Graeme Swann pesters opponents whist Alastair Cook gathers runs as a farmer collects eggs. Neither has been effective and still India has been crushed. Even the reserves are a handful. Chris Tremlett did not play in the second Test and Steve Finn waits in the wings.

England’s rise has not been an overnight event but rather it’s the product of tough decisions and shrewd appointments. Belatedly abandoning suggestions that sporting success was cyclical, the think-tank set about building an efficient system and appointing hard heads. To a considerable extent every entity determines its own fate.

Decaying tooth

Twenty years ago English cricket resembled a decaying tooth. County cricket had lost its rigour. In times past every run was resented as batsmen were pitted against cranky craftsmen. In its own way it was a proud profession. Gradually a malaise crept in, with arranged declarations, donkey drop bowling and so forth

Inevitably the performance of the national side fell away. England had forgotten how to produce players.

Eventually the Board took the bull by the horns. Central contracts were awarded, two divisions were created and four-day matches were introduced so that batsmen could build innings and bowlers could develop attacking skills.

In hindsight these changes were obvious but they were fiercely resisted. Traditionalists pointed out that the old ways had produced Len Hutton, Jim Laker, Frank Tyson and other members of the last England side to reach the top, the 1956 vintage. Moreover county members liked one division, wanted to see the leading players turn out and preferred three-day cricket. And they owned the clubs. Happily the progressives prevailed. After all 1956 was a long time ago. It was the year of my birth.

Foreign contingent

Of course that is not the entire story. English cricket has also been uplifted by its foreign contingent, players and coaches alike. It’s a topic locals are reluctant to discuss yet the facts speak for themselves. Four of the current top seven batsmen, and several of the aspirants, come from South Africa.

It cannot be a coincidence. For that matter 14 of the 45 players named in the preliminary squad for the World Cup were born and partly raised overseas.

England is lucky that many of its immigrants come from cricket-playing countries. Plainly, too, the seismic changes underway in South Africa have brought a new rush of cricketing settlers. Even the relative strength of the pound has helped, as has the doughty work undertaken by past players in the papers and elsewhere – Broad, Tremlett and Ryan Sidebottom all had notable cricketing dads. But a cricket community can enjoy all these advantages and still flop. England has risen because it found the right formula.

Strong structures, shrewd selectors, rigorous coaching, calm leadership and an emphasis on character lie behind the success. None of the players is great; all play their parts to the utmost. Simply, England is the most efficient, committed, balanced side around, and the best.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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