Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Have England really slumped?

Tim de Lisle writes a fascinating comparison between the current England cricket team and its equivalent in the late 1990s. In pure statistical terms, there is no question that there is an equivalence here. Since 2005, England have played eight series, winning two, losing four and drawing two. In the eight series before Duncan Fletcher took over they played eight series, winning two, losing five and drawing one. But have England really regressed that far?
I watched a lot of cricket in the years 1996-1999. School and university does that to you. What was noticeable, to me at least, was that England consistently underperformed. As de Lisle notes, it wasn't an untalented side. Atherton, Butcher, Hussain, Thorpe, Stewart - these are serious names. The bowling had the names too: Gough, Caddick, Fraser, Tufnell, Cork. What was lacking, and what is now far better, was consistency. The same side hardly ever played twice, and people were dropped for odd, often non-cricketing reasons. Since Fletcher England may occasionally have been too loyal to players - Ashley Giles or Geraint Jones perhaps - but that is preferable to the bizarre revolving-door of Team England in the 90s.
Despite the recent setbacks, England do now have the nucleus of a quality side. Strauss, Cook, Vaughan, Bell and Pietersen are all class players. There is strength in depth in the fast bowling, and even some in the spin department. If the two problems of Flintoff and the wicket-keeper can be settled, England look again like a contender. In a way that wasm't really the case before Fletcher, England look a solid, well-organised team. No need for panic just yet...

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