Chris Waters: It's time to admit it, the ECB picked the wrong Australian for England

GOOD to see that the decision to cut the number of County Championship matches from 16 per county to 14 is yielding such positive results for Team England.

Friday, 21st July 2017, 8:30 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:45 pm
England coach Trevor Bayliss with Test captain, Joe Root. Picture: David Davies/PA.

Ditto the shoe-horning of the competition into the marginal months of April and September.

And who has not been encouraged by the vast numbers of young English spinners coming through as a consequence, or the ability of English batsmen to play spin?

And who cannot possibly fail to see the merits of England players hardly playing any red-ball Championship cricket nowadays, the withdrawing of players halfway through games to go and play in other games, such as Lions matches, for example, the endless practice days, rest periods, central contracts, and so on?

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South Africa's players celebrate the second inning swuicket of England's Jonny Bairstow in their 340-run win at Trent Bridge last week. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

Why, it is not as if England have lost seven of their last 10 Test matches and lie a distant fourth in the International Cricket Council rankings, is it?

It is not as if all of the above is not having a positive effect.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but sometimes it is the only appropriate form of wit.

It is not just the selectors, the coaches and the players who are at fault for England’s poor record in Test cricket lately, it is the system.

NEXT IN LINE? Jason Gillespie, right, with Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon in April last year. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

It is what happens, strangely enough, when you treat the Championship with contempt, as the England and Wales Cricket Board have for many years now.

It is what happens when you prioritise white-ball cricket over the red-ball game, as the ECB do whatever their protests to the contrary, and create a totalitarian environment – unburdened by any consideration of what county spectators and the clubs themselves actually want – that is arrogant and utterly unjustified by results.

Of course, England deserve great credit for their progress in white-ball cricket in recent months.

They still haven’t won anything, mind, but not to worry – they are unrecognisable from the shackled shambles that exited the 2015 World Cup in embarrassing style.

South Africa's players celebrate the second inning swuicket of England's Jonny Bairstow in their 340-run win at Trent Bridge last week. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

T20 is clearly the future in terms of popularising cricket and taking it to a new audience, and worthwhile if only in that regard.

But there is a balance to be struck, and England have gone too far the other way and forgotten that Test cricket is a test of many talents – not simply those which involve biffing the ball over the boundary and scoring at more than four runs an over.

Before this rant continues much further and my computer combusts, we should, of course, recognise the excellence of South Africa in their 340-run win in the second Test at Trent Bridge.

That result, which ended Joe Root’s honeymoon period as abruptly as a decree nisi, was founded on the back of some outstanding displays.

NEXT IN LINE? Jason Gillespie, right, with Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon in April last year. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Not for nothing, indeed, are South Africa ranked the second-best side in the world.

But we should not delude ourselves that England are making progress in the five-day game; if anything, they are going backwards.

Even worse, we also know that they have it within them to hit back and win the series, which somehow exacerbates things.

England are more inconsistent than inconsistency itself – one minute excellent, the next minute poor.

You never quite know what you are going to get from them from one day to the next.

In their desire to play positive, aggressive cricket, an ambition that has paid off in the one-day arena, they appear to have lost the art of playing practical, ugly cricket that is often required in the five-day game.

There does not seem enough focus on building an innings or trying to save a match if it cannot be won and taking pride in being difficult to beat.

After seven defeats in 10 Tests, it does not take a genius to work out that England have become too easy to beat. Although the system, I suggest, is the biggest problem, the selections/tactics have been curious too.

Why has Gary Ballance been batting at No 3 when it is obvious to most observers that he is better suited to No 5? Why was Liam Dawson selected in the first place? And so on.

However, the nucleus of the side is essentially strong and some of the criticism of the players reflects that fact.

Nasser Hussain, whom I respect greatly, went so far as to say that England exhibited a “rubbish brand of cricket”, a typically forceful opinion.

By the by, I cannot imagine many newspaper journalists writing such words, and yet it is journalists who are ironically perceived as “the enemy” by some sportsmen, who actually receive far more stick from ex-players.

But, hey, that’s another story ...

As the inquests continue after Trent Bridge, there has been much talk of going down the split coaches route.

In other words, leave head coach Trevor Bayliss to continue his good work with the white-ball side and allow someone like his assistant, Paul Farbrace, to look after the Test team.

Fair enough, it might well work, but what we surely needed was the right coach in the first place as opposed to one who, by inference, can apparently only do half of the job.

Bayliss has little knowledge of county cricket to the extent that he has not even seen Mark Stoneman bat, an inexplicable state of affairs, while he was appointed mainly on the back of his one-day record.

At the time, I wrote that England should have gone for Jason Gillespie, the then Yorkshire coach, who knew our game as well as any non-Englishman.

Granted, Gillespie might not have had the one-day track record of Bayliss at the time, but his red-ball credentials spoke for themselves, as did his knowledge of county and international cricket.

Gillespie has proven man-management skills, great contacts, empathy with current players and the thirst to be successful.

Nothing that has happened in the intervening two years – not even England’s more positive approach to white-ball cricket – has changed my mind that we appointed the wrong Australian.