Friday, August 03, 2007

Runs lower down the order

This blog was founded on bile. The very first post vented its spleen against Duncan Fletcher and his ridiculous policy of dropping Monty Panesar because he wanted runs at number eight. That post began the ill-informed, typo-ridden, poorly constructed rants that characterise Ayalac to this day.

However, not wanting to go back on my word too much, England have a problem. Namely: runs at number eight.

As Graham Gooch pointed out on TMS, England are stuck with four number ten batsmen – each operating inter-changeably at eight, in the same ineffectual manner. The TMS boys had a very good way of putting this problem: although England have to pick their four best bowlers now, this is not a sustainable weakness in the long term.

Moreover, when Andrew Flintoff eventually returns at six, the batting line-up will look increasingly vulnerable.

Under Fletcher, England played an understandable, if limited, strategy of effectively picking three all-rounders: Flintoff, Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles. This lower middle order all contributed with the bat, and help underpin England’s innings.

Matthew Prior, although a prat, seems more a more dependable batsman than Jones. But who fills Giles’ role? The stats feature thing in cricinfo points out that the average for each of England’s last five wickets has fallen from 20 in 2005 to 15 since. Only Bangladesh and the West Indies have a comparably low average. It is questionable whether the pressure on the upper order that this entails can be continued in test cricket.

One would hope that Stuart Broad and a Liam Plunkett renaissance might reassure Fletcherians of the future. But the potential return of Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard will not sure up the tail-end.

If England are genuinely to think long-term, they wish to pick players because of a future potential. This will entail hard decisions. How far can we expect Ryan Sidebottom to go? Should he be dropped in favour of Broad on the basis of age as well as runs? Should we pick Plunkett instead of James Andersen, irrespective of bowling performance?

Flecther’s bottom four may look something like this:

8. Broad
9. Plunkett
10. Panesar
11. Hoggard

This won’t terrify many batsmen. Perhaps we need to re-jiggle the order. Select Flinoff as a specialist bowler, and forgo the all-rounder. How about:

7. Flintoff
8. Prior
9. Broad/Anderson
11. Hoggard

Arguably, the second line-up offers the same total runs as the first list, but a bit more penetration in the bowling line-up. Obviously, you would lose a bowler. But four should be enough.

Re-jiggling: the way forward.