Just how professional are our professional cricketers?. Maybe not as professional as they think they are? We have fast bowlers who do not swing the ball and waste the new ball by not making the batsmen play. Spin bowlers who rotate rather than “spin” the ball. Batsmen who play some shots well but others rank badly. Bowlers who seem satisfied to bowl a maiden without a single ball straight or full enough to hit the stumps. I could go on.
Not all of this is really new. In my five years with responsibility for the England Test team, I would count the balls that might have hit the stumps in the first 10 overs. I never reached ten, I handed on my inspired piece of research to the dressing room but nothing ever changed.
All this in the light of a sobering Test defeat by New Zealand not so long after the Stokes miracle innings against Australia and a tense Series drawing victory at the Oval.
I wonder how many people get to have a say at the post match discussions. Do the batting and bowling and fielding coaches all sit in with the manager and the Captain ~ and the Vice-Captain? If so it may be a case of management by Committee resulting in no clear path forward. Commitee decisions usually have a blurred imprint in my experience.
Most to worry about is Joe Root’s lack of runs. Even when he does get a few, it is a stuttering process with no rhythm. He is taking twice as long as before to score. I think he knows what is wrong but is finding it difficult to put it right. His clean cut footwork used to be the key. Now there is an impression of him running around with many movements going nowhere. He used to be one of those rare batsmen who put 20 or 30 on the board without you noticing. No longer.
A really flat pitch when he can stay long enough to sort things out may be the best medicine. But the last pitch was about a friendly as you could wish for in the first innings but that opportunity was missed.
I would recommend practising the seldom discussed art of “waiting”. It is completely counter-intuitive but there is a long established observation that the longer you wait, the more time you appear to have. Maybe it is because you only have time to make a single movement coupled with the obvious advantage of knowing exactly where the ball is.
I have seen slow motion film of Gary Sobers playing Dennis Lillee at Melbourne when he made a double hundred. Don Bradman thought it the best bit of batting he had ever seen, The 80~90 mph ball was over a third the way down the pitch before Gary even twitched.
Root apart, there were so many other unnecessary batting errors. Stokes running down the pitch first ball after a self induced break in play when he called for new gloves. Pope slashing flat batted at a wide good length ball, not once but twice.
I wonder who takes him to task or does he just get a cuddle and a few sweet nothings. Thinking back, I think myself lucky to have played when the Captain was boss at every level. If I played a rash stroke, I did not need to look toward the dressing room to know that Peter May would be shaking a clenched fist in my direction.
England were thrashed by Windies (an abbreviation I abhor) in Barbados. Then came the post mortems. Most agreed that leaving Stuart Broad in the dressing room was a mistake. So far so good. Some even mentioned that, with the exception of James Anderson, our bowlers had performed below par. But they were not saying THAT at the end of the first day when the West Indians lost a number of wickets cheaply. Then the scribes went on to castigate the England batting - in both innings.
None mentioned the fact that the pitch and weather conditions combined made batting extremely taxing on the second day. Roach was bowling fast, lifting off-breaks from round the wicket to our left handers, Burns, Jennings, Stokes, Curran, Moeen and Anderson. It was hardly less taxing to the right handers, Bairstow, Root, Butler, Foakes and Rashid.
Being bowled our for 70 ish was the game loser which no amount of Boycott grit and determination was going to fix.
By the time Holder started his epic innings, the pitch was flat with no turn or swing: his team was already way in front allowing the batsmen all the freedom in the world.
In our second innings we fared much better while the quick bowlers were on, with Roach a far more straightforward proposition. Burns showed he could more than just defend against pace and gave as good as he got More in hope than anything Holder switched to his one part-time spinner. and this is where England made the one key error. They failed to attack the slower bowling and got winkled out. Of course Holder still held the whip hand because no amount of fours and sixes was going to make him start to defend given England' huge deficit.
I firmly believe that, had we played Broad and won the toss, the result would have been reversed. But fate has a way of ensuring that small mistakes are punished doubly and trebly.
I am reminded of the Australian team in 2005, when the great McGgrath trod on a ball in the warm up on the first day at Edgbaston when they had already decided to put England in to bat. Rashly they proceeded to bowl first despite being without their trump card - and the whole of the Series was turned England’s way.
And talking about good days to bat or field. Only recently at Lord’s there were the most difficult batting conditions throughout the match with heavy overcast EXCEPT one glorious sunny afternoon when all-rounder Woakes cruised to a delightful century in the easiest conditions of the match. England will do a lot better in West Indies when conditions are fair to both teams.
Only a few months ago, there was a press feeding frenzy surrounding stories of Winchester schoolboys being abused by a sadistic teacher during special out of term religious studies. Horror of horrors, some of these extra curricular canings actually resulted in “bloody bottoms”! Judged by today’s standards with corporal punishment of young students being totally eliminated, it does seem pretty heinous. But, even in my early lifetime, it would hardly have raised a press paragraph, let alone many headlines.
I have no great love of schools. I was shuttled from one establishment to another, from Boarding in Scotland, (Belmont House)aged 5, to Northern Ireland, and to South Wales (Selwyn House).
Each move followed my Dad’s wartime postings in RAF Bomber Command. When he was posted to Egypt, his wife Elise, my older brother John and I were finally settled In Bucks for the duration. I had been caned by the Headmaster of Belmont House who informed my Dad of the event on his solitary visit to the school. Did you deserve it Teddy? Yes, Dad. What else could I say in the circumstances. In fact, my Dad never once lifted his hand to either me or brother John. On the very rare occasions he lifted his voice, we were happy to jump to it with a will. We both loved and respected him to the end of his life.
Now I attended my fourth and last prep school, Norfolk House in Penn ruled over in a harsh and unforgiving way by Mr Cyril Glover. Canings were a regular part of everyday life. This tyrannical person had a saving grace which was his love of cricket. He spent hours tending the nets and the middle and he taught me the basics of the game. Visiting the the school years later, it was astonishing to find that the cricket ground was no bigger than a couple of tennis courts.
Mr Glover retired and for the first time I could enjoy two years of education free from the threat of beatings. But this freedom was not to last.
I was squeezed into Radley College a term early, probably because brother John was there already and the “crammer” near Romsey was proving anything but satisfactory. Only now was I to come under the most loathsome of code of discipline which meant that virtually every boy would wind up being caned. And not just caned, but caned by older boys.
Looking back, I wonder how responsible adults could have ever devised, let alone condoned, a system of boys beating boys when they only rarely had the responsibility of doing the job themselves. Certainly, the Warden (Headmaster) the Reverend Vaughan Wilkes, he of the saintly air and other worldly manner, never saw fit to lift a finger - all the while presiding over wholesale canings of the pupils in his care.
It is a particularly sore point with me because as Head of Social (House) , it fell to me to do more than my fair share of beatings. Then I became Head of School and was required to deliver the most severe canings - delivered in the school prefects’ private study and witnessed by all such members. What a horrible thing to be required to do. Not that I suffered pangs of conscience at the time. We were all conditioned to believe that " that was just the way it was". However a form of retribution was not far off.
As my cricketing career burgeoned and my name 'Ted Dexter' became fairly common currency, a certain Peter Cook, he of the famous comedy duo with Dudley Moore, seldom missed an opportunity to tell the world of the beating he had received at Radley College at the hand of yours truly.
I never ascertained whether this was true or even whether Mr Cook had ever been a pupil at Radley College. Guilty or not the damage was done. I did not want to pour any more fuel on the fire. But a sense of revulsion at what I and others did remains alive to this day. Happily, my children will confirm that a very few mild slaps were the limit of my parental corrections.
And even more happily, the days of corporal punishment were numbered, soon to be banned by Act of Parliament, as it is to this day.
England's batting problem is getting worse and has now become beyond a joke. It can be blamed on "joke", white ball cricket, if you like. But when the fundamentals of batting technique are so conspicuously ignored, that can only be part of the answer.
The latest fashion of standing with the feet far apart and the bat raised may have merit, but, if so, I am unable to identify what it is. The first problem is that you cannot move easily laterally. The second is that it destroys the natural rhythm of playing forward and back. Just as well that they wear helmets. Or is it the helmet that has caused these aberrations?
You would think that the new feeling of invulnerability should work to your advantage when facing bouncers etc but it hardly seems to be the case when you see the amount of clumsy ducking and diving, eyes not on the ball and any amount of blows on the helmet itself. If you cannot move laterally, i.e across the batting crease, what chance is there of getting your body out of the way, never mind getting close beside the offside ball? And if you are already straddled, any forward or backward movement of the body is evidently curtailed.
The most obvious tell tale sign of poor technique is the position of the feet. I have given up counting the times I say to my wife, an avid cricket watcher, " look at his feet" before the cut to the replay and then the slow motion version of the dismissal. Invariably both feet are facing up the pitch which means that the body has turned round which in turn means that the bat has not, indeed can not, come down straight.
There is a further fashion for turning the head unnaturally towards the bowler in the stance which means not only unnecessary tension but a built in inclination for the shoulders to follow it round. If someone told me that they simply HAD to face the bowler head on in the stance, I would advise them to stand more open and then turn the left shoulder into line as part of the stroke. All of which comes back to the old adage that cricket is a "sideways" game.
I will not go through the whole gamut of reasons for the "sideways" advantage. But one is mathematically and geometrically crystal clear. If you are sideways. then you have a number of feet in which to play the ball i.e. the width of your shoulders plus, let's say, six inches in front and six inches behind. Possibly 4-5 feet in total. If you turn square on your "range" becomes measured in inches. "Leaving the ball" becomes much more difficult. I could go on and on.
I just find it incomprehensible, now that every stroke and dismissal is available for video replay, that these basics are ignored. I am available for consultation any time. I don't want to be paid and I will not put in any expenses.
I would not normally defer to the opinion of Nasser Hussain for information on batting technique. I lost any faith in his judgement/knowledge when he suggested that facing fast bowling bore similarities to a tennis player receiving first serves, i.e. the advantage of jigging around the better to pick up the pace and flight of the ball!! To give him his due, when I taxed him on the subject, suggesting that a still head for a batsman was a “sine que non”, he graciously retracted.
More than that, he presented an excellent documentary piece on the major change made by the excellent Johnnie Bairstow which has had such spectacular results. The first video clip showed him stepping across his stumps before the bowler released the ball, head on the move at the critical moment. The second clip showed him standing stock still with two stumps showing. Case proven.
But there was more good sense to come. “Now he stays leg side of the ball which has opened up his array of off-side shots”. Meanwhile his command of leg-side play has improved to a degree. Now came the final accolade. Hussain mentioned him in the same breath as the legendary Indian batsman Verinder Sewag, still the holder of the record for the most triple hundreds in Test Cricket.
Hoorah! Hoorah! One of the “modern” generation seeing the benefit of my long held mantra i.e. don’t get behind the line of the ball - get alongside it. The great ball striker Arthur Wellard once said to me “ if you get behind it, how can you hit it”.
I sent an email a couple of weeks ago to Joe Root making exactly this point. Whether his consecutive hundreds owe anything to the Dexter opinion, we will probably never know. What is certain is that my obversations did him absolutely no harm.