All this talk about the demise of Austrailia seem to be hiding one crucial factor: who's going to unseat them? Watching the recent series between England and Sri Lanka has shown me that it's not going to be England.
Strangely, most of the finger pointing has been directed towards England's bowlers, their diabolical catching and out-fielding, or fatigue (aren't these professional athletes?). IMO this is all reactionary and evasive of the central dilemma facing English cricket in the next 2 or 3 years: their batting.
It seems somewhat ironic that the cricketing establishment spent the last year forcing Alec Stewart out of the England team in order to open a spot for the "future". The unbalanced line-up which has been left in the wake of Stewie's retirement has fatally exposed the flaws of the current England team.
There was a moment about a year and half ago when England had gotten on a role of scoring 500 after 500. It seems the tide had turned for the first time in 15 years. This I would suggest that this was the peak of England's current line-up.
The batting is old, lacking in commitment, and let's face it, not very talented:
Trescothick: I thought after the "bad light" debacle of the fourth test match against SA, and the committed match winning effort that followed, that we had seen a change in Trescothick. No such luck. He has immediately reverted to the mediocre and unreliable batsman we all know and love, which is a shame, because his talent is much more than the flashy 30's-70's he scores. He refuses to commit himself to scoring match winning innings, and is symptomatic of the malaise that has dogged English cricket for 20 years.
Vaughn: England's only world class player. But he seems to have completely forgotten what it means to build an innings. He would do well to analyse the 7 centuries he scored in 2002. He would find that he started all of those innings slowly and gradually built up the momentum. Nice to see England are putting all that technology to good use.
Butcher: Time's up Butch. Sorry, you're just not up to the task of England's number 3. Another in the Trescothick mould: looks good, then unconscionably gets out. He keeps reminding us about his 40 batting average over the last year and a half. Is that as good as it gets? A batting average of 40 is your peak years? Are these the standards out cricketers are setting for themselves? I always fear drinks breaks or delays in play when Butch is at the crease ... any break in concentration seem to lead to his demise.
Hussain: Nasser is a player of ordinary talent who has succeeded by sheer bloody minded determination. England's best captain in 20 years. But as a player, one feels the fire is gone, and there isn't much talent to fall back on. At 34/35, the curtain must surely be brought down on Nasser's career after the Windies series.
Thorpe: England's best batsman over the past 10 years. But at 35 years of age will be lucky to reach the heights he previously scaled. England will need a veteran presence in the centre of their middle order as they rebuild. Thorpe has to be the fulcrum they build around. At 35, he hasn't much time left, and neither do England.
NUMBER 6: England is a country of some 60 million people. With more first class cricketers than any nation on earth. And yet we haven't got a single player who deserves to bat at number 6. McGrath and Ed Smith look so technically flawed one thinks that will never succeed at test level. How can professional players be allowed to develop such poor techniques? Key looks to have a good technique, but completely lacks concentration and commitment. Collingwood is a one day player at best, no more. I'm no fan of Crawley, but surely he deserved to be on the tour of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
If England cannot find a single player to bat at number 6, what hope to they have of replacing Butcher, Nasser and Thorpe as well? Things look bleak.
Flintoff: IMO he must become Englandís bowling all rounder and bat 7. Sad to say, but if England are to succeed, Flintoff must become England 3rd fast bowler, and bat at 7. Number 6 in the batting line-up is crucial. It requires a player (like the number 3) who can play both defensively and offensively depending on what the match situation dictates. Number 6 is often required to score quick runs, other times to shepherd the tail, other times to rebuild the innings after the loss of early wickets. Flintoff is not equipped for this role IMO. He must bat at 7 and be allowed to express himself freely, or else England will be scoring no more than 250 runs per inning.
Read: Excellent wicket keeper, but looks massively out of his depth with the bat, to the extent that Gareth Batty has overtaken him in the line-up. England do not have enough batting talent and they carry too much of a tail to afford a non-batting wicket keeper. Read is a luxury England must discard. IMO the opportunity exists for a fringe England batsman who is competent with the gloves to take over this role. One wonders why someone like John Crawley doesn't try and turn himself into a wicket keeping all-rounder. Can it be that hard to catch the damn ball?
Giles, Batty, Anderson, Hoggard, Kirtley, Harmison: no matter which of Englandís bowlers you select, the tail starts with Read. This has the offshot of adding increased pressure to the top 6, knowing full well, that if they don't score the runs, no-one will. I would suggest that this is half the reason for England's run of good form prior to the Ashes series last year. With Stewart at 6 and Flintoff at 7, one felt England had more than adequate depth to their batting. IMO this brought out the best in the top and middle order batters.
With the "enforced" retirement of Stewie England made a commitment (like it or not) to rebuild. But who are we to rebuild with? Where is the talent? Butcher, Nasser and Thorpe will HAVE to be replaced in the short term and England still lacks a number 6.
Surely it's time that England invest in youth and pick the best of the young batsmen in the country and take the inevitable downside on the chin. Otherwise, by the time England face the Aussies again in 2007, they will still be a very distant second best, even without Warne, McGrath and Gillespie.
Things have been bad for English cricket since the mid-80's. I think that things will have to get a lot worse before they can get better. But anything is better than watching this geriatric middle order continue to fail England.
If there's a silver lining, it's England's potential in the fast bowling department. One hopes that England find enough batting to give the likes of Harmison, Jones and Anderson a chance to lead Engalnd to a brighter future ... I'm sceptical though.