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England have lost the art of batsmanship

india Updated: Aug 16, 2009 02:07 IST
Ian Chappell

Australia nearly always have it. In recent times, India have had an abundance of it. It used to be plentiful in England, too, but lately it’s been misplaced. It’s successful batsmanship, and if England don’t re-discover the art in a hurry, the Ashes will remain in Australian hands.

The England batting performance at Headingley was spineless; not only did it lack determination but was also devoid of nous.

If it wasn’t for a bit of a spirited late hitting, England wouldn’t have come close to scoring three hundred runs in the match. How has England’s batting plummeted to such depths? Excuses can be made: Kevin Pietersen was missing, the fire alarm disturbed the players’ sleep and Andrew Flintoff, who recently rediscovered his batting form, wasn’t there to tighten the middle-order.

However, they are only excuses. If ever England needed their young batsmen to step forward, it was at Headingley. Instead, Alistair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell were missing in action like a soldier gone AWOL.

So what has happened to English batsmanship?

First, it amazed me there was even a discussion about who would and wouldn’t play in the latest round of County games. There’s no better way of preparing for a game than actually playing in one.

All England players who didn’t have injury concerns should’ve been playing the County games between the fourth and fifth Tests.

Secondly, what has happened to the very English art of batting to survive difficult periods? There was a time when that was what they did the best. In an era of Ken Barrington, Geoff Boycott and John Edrich, survival wasn’t a problem. The excuse often proffered is that they play too much Limited Overs cricket and consequently the art is lost.

Well, how come India’s batting has prospered in a period where they’ve played an unprecedented number of ODI’s?

Since Sachin Tendulkar came on the scene in 1989, India have played 172 Tests and 550 ODIs. Indian batting has flourished in Test cricket in that period with Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag all having fine records.

And just to reinforce the argument, Gautam Gambhir, a recent successful addition to the team, has no trouble adjusting from one form of the game to another.

Ricky Ponting is another who has flourished as a Test batsman in an era where the ODI schedule is more crowded than a Mumbai bazaar. Even Marcus North cobbled together a century at Headingley, although he’s far less international experience than Cook and Bell.

So forget the too-much-limited-overs-cricket theory; it’s just another excuse.

Former England batsman and now renowned commentator David Lloyd said during the World T 20 tournament; “I watch domestic Limited Overs matches and every time there’s a reverse sweep or a flick over the keeper’s head, teammates say, ‘Great shot.’ It’s not a great shot when batsmen from other international teams are smacking traditional cricket strokes into the stands.”

Could it be that English batsmen favour style over substance? One of the best pieces of batting advice I ever received came from former Australian left-hander Bob Cowper. He said: “It’s not what you look like that matters but the number that goes next to your name on the scoreboard.”

Even Pietersen, a fine stroke maker, sometimes opts for style over substance. His ridiculous premeditated sweep shot in Cardiff was an unnecessary risk for potentially little reward.

England have a decent attack and, even without Flintoff, it should be strong for a few years to come. However, unless the young England batsmen quickly discover the art of run scoring it won’t matter what the bowlers achieve at the Oval, Australia will retain the Ashes.