England's relentlessly reinforced positive approach is partly to blame for their disastrous collapses in Test matches

 
Felix Keith
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West Indies v England 2nd Test - Day Three
Jonny Bairstow was one of many England batsmen guilty of poor shots in Antigua (Source: Getty)

Positive. Aggressive. Competitive. Destructive. Dynamic.


These are the adjectives which are supposed to define England 2.0, the one shaped by former director of cricket Andrew Strauss, selector Ed Smith, head coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Joe Root.

These are the words you can imagine floating around in the blue-sky thinking sessions within the walls of the England and Wales Cricket Board; here’s how we can push the side up the Test rankings, drive growth at a grassroots level from the top down and engage more fans.

Since the brave new era really began to gather pace, with Smith’s appointment as selector and subsequent bold decision to recall Jos Buttler last May, England have done their best to stick by this chosen DNA.

They have played an exciting brand of cricket befitting of the modern era. Higher run-rates, shorter Tests and series wins over world No1 side India at home and Sri Lanka away have followed.


But another, less desirable, feature has become more frequent of late. While the batting collapses have been ever-present over the past few years, they were previously to some extent papered over by lower-order swashbuckling by the likes of Sam Curran and the successes of the bowlers.

This formula came to a dramatic, grinding halt in the Caribbean over the past two weeks with England soundly thrashed in the opening two Test matches by West Indies.

Defeats by gigantic margins – 381 runs and 10 wickets respectively – have been characterised by the touring batsmen’s inability to deal with pace bowling, although they did also lose eight wickets to off-spinner Roston Chase in Barbados for good measure.

In Antigua last week a difficult pitch demanded patience, a solid technique and a sound mind. Yet having been bowled out for 77 in Barbados, England fared little better, batting a total of just 111 overs to surrender a series against the world’s eighth-best side in less than seven of the 10 days allocated for playing.

When the two sorry Test matches are taken together their disastrous batting displays are – somehow – put in even starker terms: on average England have lost a wicket every 32 balls.

As a result Barbados and Antigua are now etched into memories of England cricket fans alongside Dhaka, Adelaide, Auckland, Lord’s and Trent Bridge as painful collapses from recent years.

With defeat assured and the third Test in St Lucia around the corner on Saturday, now surely comes the time to address the problem. The words of Bayliss to the media after the coach held a crisis meeting suggest plenty of soul searching.

“We haven’t seemed to have the will to fight,” he opened with.

“[Positivity] could have been misinterpreted,” he added.

“They are still coming to terms and trying to work out what is the best way to play Test cricket,” he said.

“It is a shock to the system when you lose,” he concluded.

But how will that “shock to the system” manifest itself? Can England really alter their steadfast championing of “positive and aggressive cricket” as regime poster boy Buttler – a man whose approach is guided by the phrase “f*** it” written on his bat handle – put it in 2017?

After all, having seen the obdurate Darren Bravo take 216 balls to reach 50 in Antigua, England were knocked over in 42.1 overs – just six fewer than Bravo faced by himself – in the second innings to surrender meekly.

Root claimed “a number of guys” can bat like Bravo if required, but it remains to be seen if that really is the case. When the manifesto of positivity, counter-attacking, turning around pressure and putting away the bad ball no matter the situation is so habitually reinforced it isn’t easy to change.

There is no doubt England are a talented side. There is little doubt that, barring the one perpetually revolving door of an opener slot, they have chosen the best batsmen available, albeit not in a cohesive order. But Bayliss’s suggestion that “the message between one-day cricket and Test cricket gets muddled a little” is worrying because it rings true.

England’s attempts to push the boundaries of Test match batting, to move the game on and incorporate their successful approach in white-ball cricket is understandable and admirable, but as the debacle of the current tour shows, the traditional approach is sometimes the best one.