Opinion: England’s year was a slo-mo car crash
English cricket has probably had worse years, although it is difficult to think of one. Two series wins in all formats, a tame surrender of the Ashes, an embarrassing World T20 which culminated in a loss to part-time cricketers from the Netherlands. It was a car crash spread over 12 months.
Before we discuss all the negatives, it is important to pick out the diamonds from the excrement. England came back to beat India in a Test series, although this win was somewhat tempered by the tame way that India surrendered.
Joe Root became a World Class performer. Moeen Ali was sensational with bat and ball. Moeen and Jos Buttler scored two of the best ODI hundreds you will ever see an English player achieve. Gary Ballance made Test cricket look easy. There are reasons to feel optimistic, there always are if you try hard enough.
However, positivity has been difficult this year. The much-vaunted Andy Flower regime imploded spectacularly as England lost 12 out of 13 matches in Australia. He departed from the coach’s role and was replaced by Peter Moores, with a detour to Ashley Giles in between.
Moores has been in charge since April, and in that time that Test series win against India has been his only success. When he was last in charge of England results were patchy. We have seen more of the same this year.
The departure of Flower, the appointment of Moores, and the results on the pitch have all been coloured by the sacking of Kevin Pietersen. The erstwhile England number four has been more polarising than an electro magnet.
The issue for many was not so much the fact that Pietersen was dropped, although that was hard for many to swallow, it was the way it was done. Paul Downton, England’s Managing Director who took up the post in January, just seemed to arrive and decide he wanted Pietersen out. While it is unlikely that it was that simple, that was the impression that permeated out of the ECB press releases.
In a series of ham fisted announcements, the ECB managed to alienate the majority of cricket fans. There was talk of being "outside cricket" and "the right kind of family". It stank of the elitism that cricket has tried to move away from.
The old 'school tie' attitude to running the sport will not work with a game that gets increasingly expensive to watch and that is hidden away on pay TV. Cricket needs to be opening doors, not slamming them in the faces of the majority of the country.
The first few months of 2014 were filled with leaks to the press about Pietersen, the second half was shrouded in what the ECB considered a dignified silence. What the vocal supporters of Pietersen wanted to know was why he had been fired. The answer they were given was 'because he was fired'. If could be that it was impossible to manage Pietersen, but no one has ever explained why.
Pietersen’s book gave us his version of events, but as we approach the anniversary of his departure, the ECB reasons for making the call remain opaque. The closest we got was an interview Downton gave to the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew. This contravened the confidentiality agreement that the ECB had insisted on when Pietersen was fired and Downton was forced to apologise.
Downton has not had an easy ride in his first year in charge. Every time he spoke to the press he seemed to make the situation worse. There were times when he seemed like a fireman that had mistaken petrol for water.
On the pitch the year has been dominated by discussions about Alastair Cook and his form. The ECB backed him so hard after the removal of Pietersen that they were left in a very tight corner.
By the end of the Test series against India there was glimpses of the Cook of old in that format. The same cannot be said of the Essex opener in ODIs. His form has been torturous, his innings were as comfortable to watch as Michael Madsen cutting off a policeman’s ear in Reservoir Dogs.
After losing to Australia, Sri Lanka (twice) and India in ODIs, Cook was given the boot and not named in the World Cup squad. Common sense prevailed, but only after stubbornness had hamstrung England’s chances of competing at the biggest event in cricket.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this, this will be fifth World Cup in a row where England have had little idea of their best team heading into the event.
Things have not been much better in T20 internationals. Some optimism for England’s chances at the World T20 were created by the squad for that tournament winning an ODI series in the West Indies. At the event itself, a win against Sri Lanka was set up by Alex Hales scoring the first ever T20i hundred by an English player. Then came the match against the Netherlands.
Chasing 134 to win, England folded to 88 all out against a side that a few weeks earlier had lost its ODI status. It wasn't just that England played badly, although they did, it was that the Dutch played them off the park.
It was this defeat that spelt the end of Ashley Giles involvement in the England set up, although he had rarely been given free reign or a full squad.
The year ended as it had begun. With ODI defeat overseas. England managed to win two matches in Sri Lanka, more than many had hoped for. The series was still surrendered 5-2 as the curtain closed on Cook’s time in charge.
A proud man who has given his all for England, it was a shame that Cook’s time in charge ended as it did – with his position untenable. Just as it was a shame that Pietersen departed as he did. At least Cook can take up his position in the Test side.
England have received a lot of criticism this year, the vast majority of it justified, some of it unfair. The sport is contracting as playing numbers and average attendances drop across the country. The fact that the sport cannot be watched without an expensive TV subscription is starting to bite and the counties are starting to realise this.
In 2015 the England management need find a way to engage the public in the sport. This summer it will be 10 years since England last played on terrestrial TV. The most famous cricketer in England is still Andrew Flintoff, who hasn't played for his country since 2009. The correlation is obvious. Cricket cannot be loved if it cannot be watched.
Let’s hope those who are in a position to sacrifice short term cash for the growth of the sport see that.
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