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Life After Flintoff

Jonathan-Trott-355x23520090810091346
Life After Flintoff

Over the course of eight gruelling sessions at Headingley, one of the more popular myths of English cricket was exposed as just that. That is that England are a better team without Andrew Flintoff and that Kevin Pietersen is a detrimental influence on the performance of the side. England’s bowling toiled without Flintoff, the middle order capitulated in the wake of Pietersen’s absence, and a young bowler, with all-rounder aspirations, was exposed batting at seven after the aforementioned middle order collapse.

The England selectors will no doubt breathe a huge sigh of relief whenever Pietersen is fit to return to action; it will give them one less dilemma to contemplate, as despite the way he polarises opinion, Pietersen picks himself. He is one of the best batsmen in the world, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” has never seemed more apt. However, their relief at his likely return in the coming winter is no doubt set to be tempered by the rather larger dilemma that stands ahead. That is, of course, replacing the man who has been seen as the most important figure in the side for a good five or six years now, England’s talisman, Andrew Flintoff.

Stuart Broad is no doubt a very talented batsman, and when the mood takes him he is capable of flaying attacks; see his late-hitting for pride in England’s second innings at Headingley. But a number seven batsman? Not yet. Broad’s bowling has slowly improved during this Ashes series, he found a much better length at the end of the Edgbaston Test and was England’s best bowler at Headingley, regardless of how many wickets people feel he actually deserved. It would therefore be prudent if he was allowed to focus on his bowling for now, which is, after all, his primary task. Selecting him at seven was asking too much of him, even accounting for the fact that such an appalling collapse could not be anticipated. With this in mind, it is clear that when Flintoff steps out of the Test side for good, he should, generally, be replaced by a batsman, not a bowler. There will always be exceptions (Broad batted at seven against the West Indies in the spring and there was never likely to be a problem there), but without a world-class all-rounder then you have to go with the accepted cricketing convention of six batsmen, a wicket-keeper and four bowlers.

Of course, we do have to consider that England’s bowling does look weaker without Flintoff. They are not incapable of firing without him; the first innings at Edgbaston in this Ashes series showed us that – Flintoff took no wickets there and Australia were skittled for 260. He undoubtedly gives England a better chance of taking twenty wickets though, so without him, how does the attack shape up? At the current time you would have to imagine that if England were to pick four bowlers they would be Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Graham Onions. Would the selectors be happy with this, though? It would appear that the reason Stephen Harmison played at Headingley was because the selectors were worried about the loss of aggression caused by Flintoff’s absence. Alas, it is something they have to deal with, and surely by now everybody has realised that Harmison ceased to be the answer a long time ago.

Looking at the rest of the bowling stocks, it would appear there aren’t a whole lot of options ready to make the breakthrough. It would seem very unlikely that England’s selectors would want to give up on Stuart Broad now, but he would clearly need to step up his progress to play in a four-man attack. With Graeme Swann clearly a more than capable number eight, Broad’s batting should play less of a role in his selection if England do indeed replace Flintoff in the long-term with a batsman. As such, while he will continue to be the man in possession, the likes of Ryan Sidebottom will be keenly knocking on the door in the hope of a recall. I expect Sidebottom to tour South Africa where England play a four-match series, and he may well get a chance. Monty Panesar will also likely remain around the squad as the backup spinner, it is hard to see too many others considered to join them in the touring party. Perhaps a name like Sajid Mahmood may be one the selectors return to, as they seem to continue to be keen on him.

While the bowling is likely to remain settled, the batting is an interesting predicament. As stated previously, Flintoff should be replaced by a batsman in the long-term. It is difficult to pinpoint who this should be, however, because it is currently quite the task to predict who will be batting for England in the deciding Ashes Test next week!

Of the current batting line-up, Andrew Strauss’s place is as safe as a house, even if he wasn’t captain. So too, should be Paul Collingwood’s, for the time being. Alastair Cook has not had the best time over the last couple of years, but him and Strauss have forged an impressive partnership overall and that may well be sufficient for his place to be retained. And, of course, Kevin Pietersen will slot back into his number four slot when his achilles is heeled.

This leavs two slots open, three and six. Ian Bell has performed well at six in the past, but has flattered to deceive in his latest recall and you have to wonder whether he may be looking at a long exile from the team if he fails again at The Oval (if he plays there at all). He will probably travel with the squad this winter, but I would not expect it to be as an automatic selection. Ravi Bopara certainly needs to spend next summer in county cricket and shouldn’t even be considered for the England team again in the next twelve months. Therefore Jonathan Trott seems to be the favourite to fill one of the spots. All indications suggest that he has similar ‘lbw candidate’ tendencies to Bopara and the last thing England need at three is that. Therefore if he is to come in it would most likely be down at six. There have been questions over Trott’s attitude in the past, and given the public’s unfair distrust of Kevin Pietersen, Trott would have to do very well to win over the people. Alas, the people do not pick the team and Trott has been performing very well for Warwickshire this summer. I would be very surprised if he didn’t travel to South Africa in the winter. In fact, if overlooked, he may well make his England debut in his native country, where he will no doubt get as welcome a reputation as Pietersen did in 2005.

The problem spot since Michael Vaughan stepped out of the team, of course, has been three. Many critics and fans alike would love to see Pietersen bat there; he is happy at four and performs well there, a change is both unlikely and unnecessary. Some have even bandied about Collingwood’s name to bat there, but Collingwood is hugely valuable down at five where he can dig in and rebuild a broken innings. He is not a technical wizard and could very well be found wanting if asked to bat in the pivotal number three position. Mark Ramprakash’s name is being heavily circulated at the minute, ahead of the crucial Test match next week, but aged 39 he would hardly be a long-term solution.

One other name that has been constantly linked with a recall over the last twelve months is that of Rob Key. He averages just 31 in Tests and hasn’t played one for four years, but he has been enjoying a successful season with Kent, averaging over 50. Key would have no problem batting at three, he is easily capable of batting anywhere in the top three. The big concern will be his previous performances in Tests, though. In fifteen matches, he has only managed to score one century, which came against the West Indies (although it was a double-century, a rare feat amongst Englishmen in the 21st century!). England have had their fingers burnt just recently by selecting a batsman at three after scoring big runs against the West Indies, so the selectors will want to be absolutely certain that Key has improved in the last four years before they ink him in as part of their planning for the future. His shot-selection was disappointing in his previous run in the team, and much like Ian Bell, had a tendency to score a few, look set, then get out. He certainly does appear to be in the selectors’ thoughts though; he has captained the England Lions over the last couple of years and was selected in the squad for the World Twenty20 Championship earlier in the season. The only disappointment for Key if he is to be recalled to the England squad in the coming weeks or months is that he will do so after his good friend Andrew Flintoff has departed the side (though of course they may play one last Test together).

There are other names, of course, that may come into consideration, alas Key and Trott seem to be the most likely. Owais Shah has probably seen the ship sail on his Test career, and no other names seem to be knocking on the door quite hard enough.

There can be no doubt that it will take time to adjust to the post-Flintoff era, but it is something that the selectors should have been contemplating for quite some time. Of course, as we have all seen in recent months, it is not really just the gap that Flintoff leaves which needs to be plugged, because the team has a lot of question marks over it at the moment. However getting the Flintoff replacement right needs to be the first priority, because anyone who watched the horrorshow at Headingley should be aware how England looked unbalanced, and, well, dismal.

Comments

Interesting article.

One issue it didn’t address tho is the fact that Fred will still be hanging around the team like Banquo’s Ghost as part of the one-day set up. Nostradamus I’m not, but I prophesize now that as soon as our (presumably) 4-man attack gets carted (and at some point in the winter it will, its weaknesses are all too apparent and SA’s batting line up is too good) there will be a cry for the great man to once again ride to our rescue. Witness the calls made (including one from myself) for Trescothick’s return.

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

I think the crux of the issue with Broad is who is he keeping out? If we had someone who bowled like Glenn McGrath and he was omitted because of his batting, then yes, it would be a disgrace and off to the Tower with Miller et al. The sad fact is tho that anyone who comes in isn’t guaranteed of outperforming him with the ball, even. We saw in the winter Broad was a batter bowler than a half-fit Sidebottom or a half-interested Harmison.

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

It’s an interesting one. But in the end, bowling is a lot easier when you have the runs on the board. It’s a mental hurdle that gives the bowlers a bit of extra wind, and is daunting for the opposition batsmen. As well as Broad has played in the last few innings, you probably do have to go with four bowlers.

Comment by vic_orthdox | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Cook
Strauss
?
Pietersen
Collingwood
Prior
Broad
Bresnan
Swann
Anderson
Onions

Seems like a real “each way” bet though. You’ve basically picked three bowlers good enough to claim a spot outright, and two bowlers because they bat, and they might be good enough to bowl well.

Comment by vic_orthdox | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Think it’s got merit [I]if[/I] you believe that Broad or Bresnan are amongst the best four bowlers in the country. Can possibly carry one for team balance, but not two.

Comment by vic_orthdox | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

4 quicks with 6 batsman, will have to be the balance from now on. Swann can only play if its REAL turner or againts the vulnerable batting line-ups of WI, NZ, BANG.

Comment by aussie | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Do not like that thinking really, playing two mediocre all rounders in an atempt to replicate the job of one makes little sense to me. Broad may have some talent and I like his batting at number 8 but if he is to keep being picked he needs to become a proper test bowler, if he then shows himself capable of batting at 7 then that is all well and good but to appoint him Flintoff’s sucesor now would only damage his and Englands long term prospects. As for Bresnan I cannot see him ever developing into a test class player. England just need to accept that Flintoff was a luxury that allowed them to play 5 bowlers. Without him they simply need to pick the 6 best batsman and 4 best bowlers availble to them, that is the most obvious and best way to win test matches.

Comment by Pothas | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Very good point Brumby, although I do genuinely believe that Flintoff really will play his next Test next week (as long as he plays…). But yeah, the calls will always be there until he retires from all cricket. From what I remember there were often calls for Shane Warne to return to the Aussie ODI squad, and it’s not like they were even doing badly!

Comment by GeraintIsMyHero | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

That was the team we fielded against the West Indies, except Bopara was 3 there.

Comment by GeraintIsMyHero | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Yes, I couldn’t agree more with you Brumby. Sidebottom is the only other seamer I would really have in there, otherwise it’s a case of looking at the likes of Plunkett and Mahmood. IMO Broad is a better bowler than both, as well as a better batsman.

Comment by GeraintIsMyHero | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Broad’s averages at the minute are only a few off Flintoff’s with both bat and ball. IIRC he averages 30 with the bat and 36/37 with the ball. Now I’m on record as saying Fred’s stats don’t do him justice, at least not with the ball, food for thought for you though.

Comment by GeraintIsMyHero | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

He should certainly end up with a better bowling average if he progresses. he has dropped it by about 5 over the last few series and I would like to see this continue (although another 5 off it in a short space of time would obviously be a lot to ask). I would rather see him work on improving his bowling than batting, though again given that he is only about 22/23, you would expect he can still improve this as well. So yeah, if he does enough to stay in the team he might well wind up with a better Test record than Sir Fred, quite staggering to think about it really.

Comment by GeraintIsMyHero | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Good article.

Tim Bresnan is an option who you have ignored though, perhaps intentionally. He has solid First Class credentials with 2493 FC runs at 26.80 and 213 wickets at 32.90. I’d not seen him bowl until this year but was pleasently surprised that he has pace too, delivering the ball at around 87mph for his first few spells (though this often drops down to 80mph as a match wears on). At 24 years old, he has time for improvement too, especially in the batting department where the statistics may be a tad underwhelming. Flintoff has been a star bowler while batting at seven, this is an unrealistic expectation of anyone new and although you have accepted this and suggest England look for a batsman, I think a genuine all rounder who bowls to fifth bowler capabilities could be a helpful replacement. England mustn’t hesitate to build plans around Broad too, who may grow into the Flintoff role, I think that him and Bresnan at 7 and 8 could combine to form the ability of the genuine number 7 that neither of them are.

Comment by Manee | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

Crucially, I noted that this would be doable if Broad grows into the Flintoff role. I don’t mean this entirely, but if Broad becomes a more complete bowler, which is the purpose of his grooming, then it will be four bowlers and one fifth bowler who can bat. Bresnan at seven may be necessary for him not to be seen as worse than Broad at batting and bowling, even though this is the likely outcome, but I feel that side can work well.

If Broad doesn’t improve, then all current plans that England may have for the future go out of the water, so I think it is fair to assume he does improve.

Comment by Manee | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

And yet… maybe Broad could do what Flintoff does. I just think he’s the most likely out of all our players to actually cope with leading the attack in the future. He’s got that kind of personality about him.

Surely everyone remembers how rubbish people thought Flintoff was after 20 matches? He averaged 20 with the bat and 50 with the ball.

Comment by four_or_six | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

People will never like Broad as much as they like Flintoff, because he’s skinny and pretty, and not a ‘blokes bloke’. But I reckon he’ll end up with a better career record than Flintoff – whether he’ll win us an Ashes is another matter entirely.

Comment by four_or_six | 12:00am BST 10 August 2009

This over-emphasis on that seemingly pivatol role of an allrounder reminds me of the couple of years Austrailia searched for their answere to Flintoff 2005! LOL

Really, if your best 3 strike bowlers cannot make an impact on a game then you are in real deep trouble anyway!

Either way, Broad looks to be easily coming into his own as a Test bowler…though not at a rate of notts. Let\’s remember he is basically learning on the job whereas others have had years of experience in the county game.

As of right now, I agree in playing the best 6 batsman, the ALLROUNDER PRIOR (wktbat), Broad, Swann (both with enourmous batting potantial), Anderson and Onions.

Comment by Shekar Ramlal | 12:00am BST 11 August 2009

You need two players to replace Flintoff at the moment.. I’d go with Sidebottom and Trott.. And lose any two of Bell, Bopara or Harmison

Comment by Langeveldt | 12:00am BST 11 August 2009

Selection for the SA tour is going to be seriously tricky unless a couple of our middle order actually score some runs at the Oval. Apart from Strauss, Cook, KP & Collingwood we’ll probably take Trott and any two you care to name from Key, Shah and I dread to think who else. Given that Collingwood’s form since Cardiff has been dire in the extreme, he’s a bit lucky to be regarded as a certainty, but he does have a decent 12 months behind him.

I think that life post-Fred will initially involve 6 bats, Prior & 4 quicks. If Broad does develop into a genuine test number 7, then it will be easier to play either Swann or Rashid at 8 followed by whichever other 3 quicks we want to play. But as I said earlier, a spinner doesn’t strike me as a necessity in SA.

Comment by wpdavid | 12:00am BST 11 August 2009

England can only really contemplate playing 5 specialist batsmen and Prior when they actually have 5 reliable specialist batsmen or thereabouts. As long as they have Cook and ? in the side, that is not really an option.

Comment by tooextracool | 12:00am BST 12 August 2009

No matter what people say about how ordinary Broad is at the moment, there is little doubt that for someone who just turned 23, he has accomplished a fair bit in international cricket and has shown a lot of character and the ability to bounce back from adversity.

In an ideal world, Broad should have been made to learn his trade at the domestic level and made his test debut around about right after the Ashes, but now that he has been invested in for a couple of years, it makes sense to stock by him for the indefinite future after the Ashes, especially considering the lack of a truly quality replacement.

Comment by tooextracool | 12:00am BST 12 August 2009

Life after Flintoff is going to be a bit hard, as he has been a real luxury and asset for England over the years.

He has allowed England to play with that extra batsman or bowler, which has always helped England play with a better balanced sides, and his ability to raise the bar of his game against tougher opponents is also something that England would definitely miss.

I don’t think Broad has it in him to emulate what Freddie did for England, atleast for some time to come, so therefore England might have to stop playing with the 5 bowlers and pick an extra batsman instead, and of course atm there no clear contender to fill that spot.

Comment by pup11 | 12:00am BST 12 August 2009

Thought it was poor form for them to drop Key on the last tour to SA given that he hadnt really done disastrously on that tour, (not to mention he was only 25 at the time!). However, I fail to see the point of picking someone at the age of 30 when he is barely even setting the county scene alight. Would much rather Bopara or anyone with the slightest possibility of having more than a mediocre future career toured rather than Key now.

Comment by tooextracool | 12:00am BST 12 August 2009

Well I hope it will be back to 4 bowlers. (Collingwood, KP and Trott can do some part time bowling)

Squad for South Africa

1 Strauss
2 Cook
3 Key
4 Pietersen
5 Trott
6 Collingwood
7 Prior
8 Swann
9 Broad
10 Anderson
11 Onions

Reserves: Panesar, Sidebottom, Read, Joyce, Tremlett

21 Tests 701 runs at 30.47 / 663.5 overs 58 wickets at 37.62 econ 3.28 s/r 68.6 – Broad
21 Tests 643 runs at 19.48 / 541.5 overs 33 wickets at 47.15 econ 2.87 s/r 98.5 – Flintoff

Comment by FBU | 12:00am BST 12 August 2009

If Flintoff’s injuries heal up and he stays injury free (highly unlikely I know) do you think theres any chance he could come back and tour Australia in 2010/11 and play the tests?

Comment by slippyslip | 12:00am BST 13 August 2009

Too Hot to Trott!

Comment by B.Scott4England | 12:00am BST 24 August 2009

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