Opinion: England must shuffle off this mortal coil

Blog Opinion

What England actually need to do is go and play as if the past was much ado about nothing. Sometimes – as Australia realised with Mickey Arthur – tearing up the script can work a treat, writes Tim Ellis.

It is perfectly right and understandable for Ian Bell to suggest that any criticism of the Andy Flower regime is missing the mark.

After all, the same regime made England the number one Test team in the world. As Bell states: "It's the players who have failed" in that time-honoured way of absolving the coach before he jumps off the cliff.

Andrew Strauss and Flower enjoyed a relationship of shared values which was built from the nadir of England's collapse to 51 all out in Jamaica four years ago. Personal responsibility, integrity, a belief in doing things privately and properly (hence the anger at David Warner's comments about Jonathan Trott) and a certain deference towards statistics were high on the agenda.

Pile up the runs then dry them up for the opposition. It was all working so well but this efficiency model has lost its sheen in recent times. The players and coach have begun to show signs of irritation. Losing the toss has become almost catastrophic to the game plan. The cricket has stagnated and looks joyless.

James Anderson complained in the summer. He's been doing a lot of that recently. The Lancastrian spoke up for the team when he lamented that the hosts had been accused of "ball-tampering, bat tampering, general all-round cheating, including not walking, time-wasting, arrogance, failing to win Tests convincingly enough, being too defensive, being too aggressive and not only underestimating our opponents but disrespecting them." It was a passionate rebuttal but also a succinct summary of how flat some felt about the manner of England's three-nil win.

There was a palpable air of tetchiness even before the Australians arrived. During the home New Zealand series, Cook was getting criticised for jeopardising a win in Headingley through batting too long with rain forecast.

Trott then exacerbated the situation by scoring at a snail's pace. Nick Compton batted like he was on death row. Former New Zealand captain Jeremy Coney observed that: "Watching Compton bat was like watching the last act of Macbeth, with a tormented soul in agony."

Neither Compton nor Trott are around at the moment, but England's current difficulties are clear. If you are winning, then criticism tends to flow off the back a little easier, but the sting of retribution for being perceived as dour or arrogant clearly stung proud men like Anderson and Matt Prior. Nobody wants a likeable bunch of losers in professional sport but this team seem too uptight in victory and defeat.

Perhaps it is time to call on the spirit of 2005, when England were flying and clearly enjoying it outwardly. They scored 400 in a day. Kevin Pietersen smashed Glenn McGrath for six over his head. Michael Vaughan was setting funky fields.

There was a wow factor that pulled you in. Maybe England should watch a video of the Edgbaston Test match just to capture the joie de vivre of the team – apart from the nail-biting bit where the Aussies almost snatch it and go on to win five-nil… How easily history could have been rewritten.

That ghost of Macbeth or McMitchell clearly haunts their demeanour at the moment. What Cook and company actually need to do is go and play as if the past was much ado about nothing. Sometimes – as Australia realised with Mickey Arthur – tearing up the script can work a treat.

<b>Tim Ellis</b>

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