The batsmen are at fault. Jonathan Trott scored a quite brilliant hundred yesterday in defeat by Sri Lanka in the first Test in Galle. Yet his was the first English hundred in 2012. No batsman averages more than 35 since the turn of the year and as a unit, they look devoid of ideas.
There has, in fairness, been individual improvement. Trott, like his team-mates, had a woeful run in the UAE against Pakistan. But he showed during his time at the crease in the second innings that he had learnt from that experience. Hopefully the rest of the team learn from him.
Matt Prior is another man who took exactly the right approach on Thursday, as England chased 340 to win the Test. He and Trott took their time, played straight and accumulated the runs on offer, rather than searching them out with expansive sweeps and drives too early in their innings’.
At one stage during their 81-run partnership the pair looked as though they would take their team to the verge of victory, such was their comfort. It was when Prior was brilliantly caught at short leg by Lahiru Thirimanne, who anticipated the angle of Prior’s sweep shot to catch the ball in his chest, that the momentum shifted.
Ian Bell also deserves credit, coming off the back of a fruitless UAE tour in which he scored just 51 runs in three matches, Bell showed his true talent in England’s first innings, scoring 52 in a patient and measured fashion.
However, as a collective batting unit England have not improved or learnt from their tortuous tour against Pakistan. They are yet to hatch a credible plan to combat spin on slow, low Asian pitches and are so obsessed with the sweep shot that it consumes their entire innings.
Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and debutant Samit Patel combined for 31 runs in the first innings and 80 in the second. It is quite easy to surmise that England won’t win many matches with that sort of collective run making.
Strauss’ form is the real worry. With just a single Test ton to his name in 48 innings’ the England captain is coming under intense pressure. His cautious approach as captain, which won him so many supporters during the Ashes wins, has started to come under as much scrutiny as his batting and it will be no surprise if he leaves the team to Alastair Cook in the near future.
Realistically, making changes is the one thing that Strauss and coach Andy Flower can do to wrestle back momentum for this side, but it is unlikely to happen. Ravi Bopara is the reserve batsman that could come in, but the England management are simply not going to replace Strauss, the man who should be dropped on batting form, in the middle of a tour.
Leaving Strauss out and moving Trott up to open with Bell, Pietersen and Bopara making up the middle order would be a huge gamble. And as Mark Butcher said after play yesterday “I don’t think Strauss and Flower have ever been in a casino in their life.”
Regardless of what happens in the second Test in Colombo, England do not deserve their number one ranking. They have shown quite clearly over the last four matches that they are not capable of playing in different conditions and as yet are unable to adapt.
Of course, the bowlers are blameless in this situation. The seamers inparticular have performed immensely to take so many wickets in completely unsuited conditions, while the pairing of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann has been effective and refreshing.
On countless occasions the bowling unit has put England in positions to win matches this winter, and each time they have been woefully let down by their colleagues. It is becoming unforgivable.
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly