England’s test team have an uncanny ability to not lose. Currently they have gone 12 matches without a loss and against this Australian team they look like they are set to continue the trend. You would think that to go unbeaten in so many matches, they would have played a high standard of cricket, but in my opinion they have been below their best since losing the number one ranked spot in test cricket. So, how have England maintained their unbeaten record?
To win a test match, a team must take 20 opposition wickets. England make this incredibly difficult. Their top order is resilient and will happily bat all day. Cook and Trott are two of the best in the world at just occupying the crease. Trott’s consistency is remarkable and Cook rarely gives his wicket away after getting a start. Despite this they have struggled in the current ashes series with Trott being horribly out of form and the pressure of captaincy is finally having an impact on Cook’s batting performances. I’m sure this is a rare blip and he’ll be back to their best soon.
Once teams manage to dismiss both Cook and Trott they would fancy their chances against the more aggressive middle order of Pieterson, Bell, Bairstow and Prior. But I think the aggressive nature of all these players is not the full reality, and all play defensively if the situation requires them to do so.
Prior saved the 3rd test match against in New Zealand to earn a series draw by facing 182 balls and Ian Bell hung in for 271 balls showing that they aren’t afraid of a trusty old block. Even the enterprising Kevin Pieterson can be hard to dismiss. His hundred in the recent ashes test at Old Trafford was quite restrained, scoring 118 from 206 balls. But when you get past the middle order and into the bowlers surely then you can bowl England out?
Wrong. England rarely pick four bowlers that can’t hold a bat. In fact they never pick five bowlers, showing that they don’t want to risk losing an extra batsman. Recently, Tim Bresnan has been favoured instead of the likes of Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett or even a second spinner such as Monty Panesar.
Now, I like Tim Bresnan but I don’t think he’s an out-and-out wicket taker. However, one thing that Bresnan does offer is his batting ability. He won’t score you hundreds but he’ll always chip in, spending time at the crease to help the top order out. Then come Broad and Swann, both can bat and have been part of some vital partnerships to set up victories or to save test matches over the years.
To avoid losing a test match, runs on the board are vital. Once you have scored enough runs you have to ensure that the opposition either, don’t score more runs than you or, score their runs slowly so that they don’t have enough time to bowl you out again.
This is where setting the field defensively has enabled England to maintain their unbeaten status for 12 matches. Any sense that the batsmen are on top and scoring freely, boundary riders go out.
However, as an England supporter, it can be infuriating when to a new batsman there are only two slips or when Swann puts a long off back so that the batsmen can push a single down the ground easily. When asked about why England are so defensive in their field placements the England captain says that with the rise of T20, batsmen like to hit boundaries and then get bored when they can’t making them force the boundaries, creating chances. It’s a good theory and one which obviously works but with the bowling talent that the England team possess, surely they can afford to be more attacking and ruthless. Brendon McCullum’s captaincy in the recent series against England was a great example of how to be attacking and helped make New Zealand favourites to win the series but yet again England found a way to draw.
Test match cricket is all about winning test series and by not losing and winning just enough matches, England are succeeding. Their system works. Since the 2009 ashes series they have won 10 test series, drawn 3 and lost just 2. The losses were against South Africa – the best team in the world – and Pakistan away in conditions that heavily favoured the home team. By finding a method in which they don’t lose, England are giving themselves a chance of winning.