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England’s Test woes may spill into new year

Even taking into account the fact that statistics are pliable, the English batters’ numbers are quite damning
Last Updated : 04 January 2022, 00:39 IST

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It was a dreadful 2021 for England in Test cricket, one that progressively got worse as the months ticked over. They did start the year on a rousing note, winning three Tests in a row in Asia (two in Sri Lanka and one in India), but finished it by losing their final match inside three days to Australia. In the process, they surrendered the Ashes with two Tests to go and with little indication of a reversal in fortunes.

As incandescent as Joe Root was with the bat, the rest of the unit was painfully pathetic. While the skipper is a strong contender for the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year award, having accumulated over 1,700 runs in the year gone by, his team-mates spent the year wondering where their next run would come from.

Even taking into account the fact that statistics are pliable, the English batters’ numbers are quite damning. Barring Root, none of the others averaged even 30 per innings last year; while Root alone had six hundreds in 29 innings, the remaining 14 specialist batters managed just one three-figure score. They collected 54 ducks, equalling their own dubious record for the most ducks in a calendar year, in 1998.

The gaping gulf between the prolific Root and his colleagues can be measured by the amount of runs their second-best batter managed -- 530 in 19 innings at 27.89 by Rory Burns. That extras were the source of the third most runs (412) was the ultimate indictment of their ineptness in a year where they lost nine Tests.

This was only the second instance in Test history of a team losing as many matches, an wanted record hitherto owned solely since 2013 by Bangladesh.

England lost 1-3 to India in February-March, 0-1 to New Zealand at home in a two-Test series which wasn’t a part of World Test Championship, trail India 1-2 in a five-Test series whose final game will be played later this year and surrendered the Ashes without a semblance of fight.

A few former England skippers have listed various reasons for their Test woes. Michael Atherton has blamed it on players’ wrong priorities like choosing to play private franchise leagues over representing the country while Kevin Pietersen has cited an increased emphasis on white-ball cricket taking away their edge in red-ball cricket.

Michael Vaughan echoed Pietersen’s assessment while saying, “The focus has been on the white-ball team and it delivered a World Cup, but we’re not a good enough cricketing nation to take our eye off the ball of Test match cricket.”

Atherton’s reasoning doesn’t cut much ice as almost all the top players from India, Australia and New Zealand - the top three Test teams in the world - regularly feature in the Indian Premier League. English Test regulars hardly missed a Test last year due to the IPL. If anything, it was their well-intentioned rotation policy to protect players from bubble fatigue that allowed some key players to skip Test matches.

There’s some truth to Pietersen and Vaughan’s analysis that increased focus on ODIs and T20s has compromised England’s Test cricket. It may have won them their maiden 50-over World Cup, but it may have also come at a heavy cost. For a country that prided itself on its patronage of the traditional format, the developments of 2021 are a harsh reality check. Australia and New Zealand, the finalists of the T20 World Cup, and India have shown that one can be a top Test side without sacrificing the demands of white-ball cricket. England just must find that balance before it’s too late. If it already isn’t, that is.

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Published 03 January 2022, 16:51 IST

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