ONEaccording to reports, the English team took a charter flight to Hobart. When you saw them play on the first day at Bellerive Oval, it looked more like they had traveled with old sail bark and arrived, just like Abel Tasman, dirty, sore and worn out, half starved after six months of picking snout beetles out of biscuits. Beaten, cut and bruised, suffering from strains, dumbness, tenderness and collapse, loss of form and lack of faith. Between the 11 of them, it felt as if if you picked the best pieces from each of them, they could almost assemble a well-functioning and happy test cricketer.
The record books show that this is the shortest Ashes tour the team has ever taken, but from that point of view, it has to start to feel like it’s been dragging on for an awful long time.
The brief exhilaration they and everyone else felt after Joe Root won the throw on a grassy, damp, green and unexpectedly familiar course, and Australia fell to 12 for three, gave way fairly quickly when Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head launched their brilliant counterattack. England began to fall apart almost as soon as Root made his first bowling change. Chris Woakes, hopelessly short of form and a good feeling after being dropped from the team, seemed to have forgotten how to do the one thing that has always fallen to him so naturally, and could not settle for a line or a length. Mark Wood did not feel much better.
Then Ollie Robinson left injured just after lunch, and when he came back again, he spent the rest of the day stumbling geriatrically around the field, sometimes throwing the ball back under his arms from the deep. When Ben Stokes was unable to bowl because he entered the match with a side load, the only option Root had left was to bowl himself, which was how England ended up delivering 10 overs of part-time off-spin during conditions that were tailor-made. -made for nail bowling. The scoring on stumps should have seemed encouraging, but instead spoke of a missed chance, and a chance that was missed.
So as the day progressed, thoughts drifted away from what will happen in this game, to the more pressing question of what will happen when it’s all over. Fortunately, ECB CEO Tom Harrison was ready to fill in the details. Harrison gave an interview to the BBC in which he spoke through some of his ideas for the future. Do you have an appetite for more of this? Harrison almost never gives interviews, and yet, as soon as he says it, he has the weird ability to make you feel like you’ve already heard enough.
Harrison explained that we were in fact looking completely wrong at this latest series defeat, and it was really “a brilliant opportunity for us to come together as a game” to “reset the importance of red ball cricket in our domestic schedule” and ” recalibrate how we play first-class cricket in the UK ”.
This would be more convincing if Harrison had not spent the last seven years being responsible for the same system that he now blames for this failure. It would also have helped his case if the biggest obstacle to the recalibration he wanted was not the conspicuously expensive whiteball tournament he launched, which now lies scattered in the middle of summer like a doberman on a couch.
Harrison also returned to another of his recent themes, “the volume of cricket,” and again, he is absolutely right. There is too much. The question is whether he has noticed that a large part of it is due to the fact that he has just launched an unnecessarily fourth format of the sport. There was another strange little irony when he talked about the one tangible measure he has taken so far. He said he had written to Cricket Australia asking them to help set up a system where English players could play in Sheffield Shield (after all, they can hardly get a game of first-class cricket in their own country). So more cricket for the men he says should play less of it.
There is also a good point here. If you looked with the right eyes, you could see how Labuschagne and Head have benefited from playing in English county cricket in the way they put about England’s sailors on a green pitch in Hobart. But there are only six Shield sides, and the competition for seats on them is pretty fierce. Good luck convincing them that they too should be involved in developing young English players. In addition, this current English team actually has plenty of experience in Australian conditions, whether it was in Grade cricket, or Big Bash, or on A-tours. That is one of the things the ECB has been right about in the last few years.
That is before you even consider the question of how exactly they should find time for this in the schedule. Other than that, it’s a good idea, just down the list of things England needs to fix. Maybe they should wait until they discuss it with the players. If they tell so much that they will have to spend more time in Australia, they might just end up with a mutiny on their hands. Although you’re funny enough listening to Harrison, you’re wondering if that might be exactly what English cricket needs.