Cook needs to do away with crazy selections

Time to shore up the batting line-up rather than pack it with all-rounders

Gulf News

The England team for the third Test contained only three genuine recognised batsmen in Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Haseeb Hameed. It was a selection that was a recipe for failure.

All the rest were excellent, dual-purpose all-rounders, but why do England keep picking six bowlers when they have a problem with batting collapses? Look at our batting over the past three years. The facts and figures tell everyone who studies and watches England that whatever faults they have in other areas, their biggest weakness is not making enough runs.

Yet the captain and coach still persist with this crazy idea of packing the team with six bowling options.

When Andrew Strauss was captain, it was automatic to play only four bowlers. Try as anyone might, he could hardly ever be talked into playing a fifth bowler, never mind a sixth like we have now. Nobody can blame the selectors back in England. This is at the door of captain Cook and coach Trevor Bayliss. They select the team on tour.

In the first innings at Mohali, we had two off-spinners bowl a total of 29 overs between them; Moeen Ali bowled 13 and Gareth Batty 16. That is half a spell of bowling each and neither managed a wicket. Moeen or Batty could — and should — each be able to bowl 29 overs of slow spin in an innings. If they cannot, then they should not be playing.

For goodness sake, find and play some proper batsmen and then the all-rounders will become huge pluses. For some time now, the all-rounders have had to dig England out of a mess. They are good, so sometimes they succeed, but asking them to do it all the time will not work. The top five batsmen should be scoring more runs and giving a platform for the middle order to do some serious damage to the opposition later on.

You have to ask yourself how England select a tour squad without a third opening batsman. Also, if they pick Gary Ballance as a spare batsman and then have no confidence in his ability against spin after his failure in Bangladesh on turning pitches, then why not send him home? There is no point in him being in India if the captain and coach have lost confidence in him and select a wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler, in front of him. Ballance is now reduced to a drinks waiter and batting in the nets, which is soul destroying.

Cook and Bayliss are paid to have the bottle to make difficult decisions. It may seem brutal but it would be better for the lad to go home and regain his self-belief and for England to bring in someone from the Lions playing in the United Arab Emirates at the moment. The biggest problem with England’s batting is that the whole set-up talk too much about scoring rates, attacking the bowlers, putting pressure on the opposition by not letting them settle.

That is great for T20 and 50-over cricket and maybe sometimes, when Test pitches are easy batting surfaces. In Test matches when the ball swings, seams or spins, it is vital to have a great defence allied to patience and concentration. If you cannot stay in, you cannot score runs.

It is the same principle in golf. Jack Nicklaus said it was not always about playing great shots, it was more about not making stupid mistakes. He is on record as saying that 70 per cent of his game was defence and only 30 per cent attack. It is not rocket science. Most of our batsmen need to learn how to think differently when batting in Tests as opposed to one-dayers.

If you can make a fast hundred, fantastic, but that is not easy and happens only occasionally. If you cannot do that, then our players need to make a slow hundred and realise that it is better than a quick cameo 30 or 40. England’s batsmen need to become more old-fashioned. Stay in, wear the bowlers down, make a solid platform for the middle and late order to have the freedom to attack.

There are three sessions a day in a Test match. England scrap and fight and stay in the contest for many of those sessions. They are equal to India but then they capitulate. They cannot stay the pace when the pressure gets to them. I believe it is a mental problem. England have a team psychologist and he needs to start doing his job and finding out why the players buckle individually and collectively so often.

England have some of the best players in the world. Cook, Root, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are world class Test match players. But we win, we lose, we are up and down like a yo-yo.

From one session to the next, you never know what you are going to get from England. It is a roller-coaster ride watching them. England seem very comfortable playing on pitches at home and in South Africa, where our seam bowlers are a dominant force, but on slow turning pitches they have sunk twice in the UAE, Bangladesh and now India.

How many times must I say that batsmen put you in a position to win Test matches by scoring runs, and bowlers then win the game? It is still a fact now, but England are failing to do it.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2016

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