I don’t normally talk about sport on the blog, but as a bit of a change and as a space to get things off my chest, here goes a bit of ungraciousness.
The last test match against Sri Lanka was certainly entertaining – at least from the perspective of the neutral purist. The dogged resistance that England showed on the final day was a great credit to the tailenders and especially to Moeen Ali. The fact that we ultimately lost the game was not primarily due to failure of the rearguard action, but to a failure much earlier in the game.
England have some very talented players. Though I thought Bell was a spare part in the 2005 Ashes series, he has gone on to become a fine batsman and one of the world’s best fielders to boot. Joe Root is a brilliant prospect and, barring injury, I expect him take over the England captaincy somewhere between 4 and 7 years from now.
Yet it is frustrating that the capabilities of the England team are so far in excess of their achievements over the past year. The player under the most scrutiny (some fair, some not) has been the captain, Alistair Cook. Over the last year he has averaged just 25 with the bat and failed to effectively captain the side.
I differ from the BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, in that I think the time is right for Cook to have his captaincy taken away from him in order that he may focus on improving his batting, given the weakness he has just outside his off stump, ruthlessly exploited by the Australians, continued by the Sri Lankans and will be well-known to the Indians who come here on tour next month.
If it were purely on his batting form then one could make the argument for simply moving him down the order so that he doesn’t face the new ball. What bothers me about his captaincy is that he doesn’t seem to know how to take charge of his bowlers. In the Headingly test just gone, our seam bowlers repeatedly bowled too short. At one stage in the game, over 80% of the wickets had fallen to balls that we pitched just slightly fuller than a good length. Yet these seemed to be aberrations and not the bowling plan.
Yes, the bowlers should have known better, but the captain should be the one with the strategy in mind, telling his bowlers where and how to bowl. A good bowler should be able, by and large, to stick to that and set a field accordingly. Then the wicketkeeper should be the next in line, as the person best placed to make observations and suggestions on how to subtly alter the field so as to effect a wicket.
My proposal then would be to appoint Bell as captain and push Cook down the order. With an average of 25, it might be fitting to put him at number 8, though that may be a bit too humiliating.
Suarez and the biting incident
Well, everyone knows Suarez bit an opponent. Again.
Not only is that bad enough, but in his comments after the match he didn’t show any sign of acknowledging that it was wrong. It is another instance of a player who has a violent temperament going off the rails. Given he has been punished before about the very same matter, he clearly hasn’t learnt that it is totally unacceptable behaviour that has no place on the football field. As such, I cannot see what good reason FIFA could have for imposing anything but the maximum penalty of a 2 year ban, hopefully from all forms of competitive football.
The fact that he is one of the most talented forwards in the game should have no bearing on any disciplinary verdict. It should be the same whether he is the striker for Liverpool and Uruguay or Scunthorpe and San Marino.
England living down to expectations
So, the England team are back home now. The fact is, we expected it. We don’t have a strong squad. The fact that we played quite well against Italy in the opening game was a pleasant surprise. Yet many of the players are relatively unknown even in the Premiership, overshadowed by their colleagues who come from more successful countries.
Attention tends to focus on two people: Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney. I don’t think Roy did a bad job with the squad he had. The fact is that there aren’t many talented English footballers who can play well on the big stage. What we have is lots of players who are decent in a domestic league but just can’t handle the important matches. Rooney is the prime example of this. For too long, he has been the first name on the team sheet on the basis of him being a good club player who has scored a fair number of international goals against minor nations who show no sign of getting to the quarter finals of any major tournaments. He has been given plenty of opportunity to do well but has consistently failed to reproduce his club form at international level. I would like to say ‘drop him’ but I honestly don’t know who we would replace him with. He’s not deserving of a place in the England team, but that is more an indictment against English football as a whole than it is about one player.
It used to be the case that world cups, in putting together international teams, plucking the best players from each club and teaming them up together underneath their country’s flag. With the amounts of money now in circulation among the “big” clubs, it now seems that the Champions League is the showcase for the best talent plucked from each country and teaming them up together under their club banner.