As Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings walked out to the middle on Thursday morning at Southampton there was hope, fans across the country were desperate to see this be the innings that saved England’s failing top order. Instead, there was a disappointing familiarity to proceedings, inside 18 overs they had slumped to 36-4.
The supposed crème-de-la-crème of the batsmen in this country were faced to watch from the pavilion as the youngster, Sam Curran, and the returning Moeen Ali dug them out of yet another desperate situation.
The men picked to aid the bowling attack were embarrassing those who’d gone before them. It was almost as if they were in an entirely different game to Joe Root and co.
Even before the morning session begun, the excuses had begun to be shared around. Players and pundits had begun to speculate the cause for the collapse. The problem though is that the excuses seem to pre-date the collapses themselves.
Is limited overs cricket to blame?
The most obvious line was immediate. It’s all the white ball’s fault. On the surface at least, the point may have its merits. The search for quick runs may be causing players to lose their defensive game, but it’s hardly an exclusively English problem.
Every test playing nation shares a lot of their players with their respective T20 and ODI teams, yet not everyone is repeatedly finding themselves 30-3 every time they take to the crease. If other nations can find a way to succeed, then there’s no reason why England can’t follow in their footsteps.
Are the counties failing our country?
And if it’s not the white ball’s fault, then the blame inevitably falls back onto the County Championship. For new players coming into the side, there’s certainly an argument that the domestic game isn’t preparing them for the rigours of test cricket.
But it doesn’t explain the failures of the established players. After all the counties can hardly be blamed for the failures of players like Root and Jonny Bairstow who rarely make appearances for the county side anyway.
Obviously, county cricket has its flaws, there are serious scheduling issues and perhaps the gap between the international and county game has grown too big for the players trying to make the jump.
Yet every player to feature in this side honed their skills on the county circuit and there’s been plenty of successes to suggest these reasons for the failures run deeper than just the County Championship.
Could it be the players themselves?
Whilst some of the suggestions have been understandable, some have been downright absurd. Simon Hughes’ assertion that social media may be to blame is laughable. Three of the top four test batsmen in the world have active Twitter accounts and considering Cook’s lack of social media, his lack of form cannot be blamed on some Instagram stories.
Even the length of the grass this summer has come under fire, it is hardly an explanation for the failures through the winter in Australia and New Zealand.
Ultimately it comes down to the fact there’s a lack of defensive nous in the team at the moment. Whether it’s a lack of application or it’s a flawed technique depends on the individual, but there’s been a notable absence of the old-fashioned forward defensive in this series and an overload of indecision.