Bob Willis, former England fast bowler and notoriously scathing pundit, must have thought all his Christmases had come at once after England fell to their first ever Test defeat to minnows Bangladesh in Dhaka on Sunday.
Like a photographer who is in the proverbial perfect place at the perfect time to capture a truly stunning shot, chief judge, jury and executioner of the Sky Sports punditry programme ‘The Verdict’, Willis couldn’t have wished for a better time to sink his salivating teeth into England’s cricketers on Sunday afternoon.
It, plain and simply, was Willis’ moment, his time, as he inevitably described England’s performance as ‘disgraceful’ and in terms of a cricketing armageddon, ‘right at the top of the tree’- just to warm himself up.
Well, you might find it a tad surprising that I’m not going to play the Bob Willis role in this piece. While no can get away from the fact that England’s performance in Dhaka on Sunday, slipping from 100-0 to 164 all out to the number 9 ranked team in world cricket, was unacceptable, we still need to look at it in the long-term picture.
One must remember that England have a very young and inexperienced side, many unaccustomed to facing the trial by spin on such surfaces. Not only that, Bangladesh are side on very much an upward curve, and one can be almost certain that England won’t be the only team getting a particularly nasty bloody nose on a tour to Bangladesh in the coming years.
It is becoming a common theme in Test cricket these days that sub-continent teams cannot win outside of Asia and non-sub-continent teams cannot win in the sub-continent.
The way some news outlets have reacted to the defeat has not been dissimilar to when the Sporting Times proclaimed, ‘RIP English cricket which died at the Oval’ in August 1882 after England’s first ever defeat to Australia.
Yes, it was as bad a day at the office as could be imagined, but certainly not the end of English cricket. Teams, regardless of history, are allowed to improve after all, and Bangladesh have certainly done that.
Though England should have won, on paper, both Test matches without ever needing to get out 3rd gear, credit must be given to the outstanding performances of Bangladeshi individuals. The emergence of extremely talented off-spinner Mehedi Hasan first left the tourists in a twist, and then England’s own spinners proved far and away too inconsistent to be successful.
“England are undoubtedly a side packed with some incredible talent, but they are team with clear deficiencies”
I thought before the series that if England would not be on their metal, they could struggle and unfortunately it’s how it turned out. Like Mike Atherton said, they got away with it in the first Test because of individual brilliance, but their failings as a team meant they were ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
Accidents, though, can always be rectified so the same mistakes are not made again, and this current side has a lot of time on its side to learn from such failings and come back a stronger team the next time they venture into this part of the world.
England are undoubtedly a side packed with some incredible talent, but they are team with clear deficiencies which become highlighted in the slow, spinning tracks of the sub-continent.
Though the spin problem is one that could continue to haunt them for the foreseeable future, there are number of extremely talented batsman waiting in the wings. The position at number 4 in the line-up will inevitably become available as Gary Ballance’s torrid couple of years will see him make way for presumably a return to the Test side for Jos Buttler.
However, if the selectors deem Buttler underprepared for Test cricket at this point, they could turn to rookie opener Haseeb Hameed and push Ben Duckett down to four. One possibility is even a return for Alex Hales to the middle order, albeit an unlikely one, but an option nonetheless.
In terms of the question of which spinners to use, Jack Leach, Somerset left-arm orthodox bowler and leading wicket taker in the Championship last season, surely now must get a call up?
Yes, this was a bad defeat for England, no one can get away from that, with age old problems being at the forefront. Similarly though, it was not the ‘disgrace’ so many have suggested it to be.
The greatest tragedy will be if England fail to learn from this defeat and those labelling them an embarrassment fail to develop a true perspective on the current state of world cricket.
Words by Joe Robinson
Image courtesy of Alan Gilmour via flickr.com