Fail to plan and plan to fail…and no mention of the ‘Br’ word!

A number of readers have asked where are my photos and commentary from the West Indies test series against England. The simple answer is that there are no photos (or tourist bits) for two reasons – cost and quality.

The cost of three weeks going around the WI are greater than 51 days going round Australia and 25 days of test cricket (due to US and Canadian snowbirds, labour costs and the peak holiday season for the Caribbean…so they know they can charge what they like and there will be thousands of England supporters anyway); the quality of cricket on offer appeared at a distance of time and space seemed to be low (not like the West Indies of the 1980s when I was last there) and three/four day finishes would see me on the beach for hours and as I’m not a beach person…so you can see the equation was simple in the end even though the weather would be cooler and everyone suffering from an underload/overload of ‘Br’.

So looking from afar (and one of the ‘benefits‘ of not touring is the full access to the England cricket media), the performance by England in the first test leaves a lot to be desired. As we have seen in the past, class is permanent and form is temporary and one loss (albeit by a significant margin) doesn’t render this team useless or hopeless.

One thing has come to the fore is the lack of planning and preparation and we’ve seen this before, not only with England but with other touring sides. Admittedly, schedules are crammed when compared to times past, the opportunities for players to earn significant sums are much greater than even 15 years ago, the role of test cricket has fallen in the cricket psyche over the years (or is it something we’ve been told is happening and told so many times that everyone believes it?) but someone in ‘management roles’ – and there are loads of them in every international team set up – needs to get a grip and say to players and tour organisers ‘No, you can’t go off and play T20, T10 or whatever…when the tours are so close together; but we’ll pay you even more handsomely not to do so but you spend the time in proper preparation and if that means two or more ‘proper eleven a side three day games against local/state/first class teams’, then so be it’.

After all Joe Root seems to have gone from Sri Lanka to Australia (BBL) via Leeds to sign a new contract with Yorkshire and on the way home from Australia must have been in the country for no more than 48 hours before heading to the Caribbean a short time before the Test and the farces of the ’14 play 14 but only 11 at any one time, preparation matches’. And from my limited knowledge or following of T20 cricket, Root is not a natural T20 player but he seems to think he is.

But where was I? Oh yes, preparation or rather the lack of it; and not just in advance of the Test. There seemed to be a lot of muddled thinking when it came to selecting the side and leaving it to the last minute/day or even looking at the pitch an hour or so before the start of play cannot be good preparation for anyone. Remember the fiasco of a few years ago where England were inserted and failed (history is littered with failures and tends to be written by the winners anyway!) after being woken at 4.30 am by a fire alarm in the hotel, standing around for ages, not getting back to sleep, the start of the game was peppered by ceremonies and presentations, anthems and such like so much so that Andrew Strauss as captain had no time to prepare himself mentally, failed to make any score of note and the rest collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards.

Lessons from history learnt…? Don’t think so. And as for the selection and the elephant in the room…not picking the Notts quickie but an extra spinner or left arm medium fast young tyro. Well, spinners have never had massive success in the WI (sorry…ok, Chase did take eight yesterday (more than even Warnie managed in the WI) but he didn’t spin more than three deliveries) and left arm medium quicks also tend not to succeed in WI; at the time and from the management’s interpretation of the pitch and the data, the selections probably seemed sensible at the time…even though that was minutes before the start!

And talking of data…yes, it has its place but when players just become extensions of bowling or batting machines then it needs to go back into its box! Instinct and other players’ stories will relate batsmen’s or bowlers’ weaknesses – or in Jennings case, just watch him! Talksport talked yesterday of Jennings disciplined innings…sorry, experts, he just looked to me like a rabbit in headlights as he did in SL (ok, one good hundred was seen but one swallow doesn’t make a summer); perhaps Jennings is in the side for his fielding and bowling (from what I’ve seen of the latter, it’s only just worse than his batting!)

And finally to one of the dark arts of cricket – reading the pitch and forecasting what it’s going to be like in five days time or at any time between now and then. I’ve looked from afar and from close up at cricket pitches for many years and still have no idea how a pitch will react. Yes, the greener it is, the more the swingers and seamers should enjoy it, the more brown and dust like the more the batsmen and spinners should have fun and something dappled or motley between green and brown the more uncertain the game is likely to be. So, did England get it wrong in picking two spinners (one of whom seems to have lost the trust/faith of the captain) and WI correct in picking two part-time spinners who didn’t spin it?

But as the great Richie said ‘the game is played 90% in the head and 10% skill and don’t try it without both!’ England didn’t get in right in their heads in many ways – perhaps they needed more preparation to help with the mental side this time?

And so, the tour moves on and this week becomes an important one for ‘Br’ – let’s hope the right decisions are made on both sides of the Atlantic!

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