England are at a crossroads – so what needs to change?
This is the most important year ever in English cricket – Michael Vaughan and Geoffrey Boycott tell Nick Hoult why
‘The selectors in Test cricket have had a shocker. The top seven looks settled but it is by accident’ On Stokes... We are lucky to have him. This kid has only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of On Bayliss... Trevor Bayliss has not played Test cricket. Does he understand the international game? On Cook ... Captains have to be brave and that is the problem with Alastair – he has no imagination or real flair ‘Get big scores and win a couple of games and it will end the talk about whether Morgan should be ODI captain’
A Geoffrey Boycott t the end of 2016, how do you evaluate the performance of the England team? Has it been a good year in Tests, one-dayers and T20?
They are good at home but not so good on the road. As soon as they go to Asia on slow, low, turning pitches they are not very good because their spinners are poor and they haven’t got the quality batsmen up front to deal with the turning ball. I understand why. It is because in county cricket the England and Wales Cricket Board has tried to produce pitches that simulate Test cricket and the administrators thought that would help them prepare for Test cricket. Well it does the job in England but not in Asia.
Michael Vaughan I think it has been a poor Test year. The team have lost eight Tests. There was a documentary about how bad cricket was in the 1990s last year and England have fallen to that standard this year. It is not just losing. In any sport, if you are losing and competing then you are only a small distance from winning, but if you look at England’s losses, they are getting hammered.
Trevor Bayliss has coached 22 Tests and lost 12 games in an era where England have been good in Test cricket. In one-day cricket, I think this was the year when we started a new era. We play in the right way, reached the final of the World T20 and hit 400 twice in 50-over cricket. I know the DNA of the one-day team. In Test cricket, I don’t think the team knows their style of play.
If you go back over the last 15 years, we knew what England were about. Nasser Hussain’s team was very hard to beat. My style was to be aggressive and a bit risky. Andrew Strauss’s style was formulaic and attritional by wearing down the opposition and it worked. I just think, after three years, nobody can tell me what this Test team play like. Look at Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand team. We knew what they would be like. I’m not sure whether this England Test team know whether they are aggressive or attritional. I think they get confused. good players. There are too many weak links. The spin department is really poor. They have tried all sorts of players in the top order. For a long time, they have not had a No 3. Joe [Root] has been No 4 and when they move him to No 3 they are weak at No 4. They are weak at No 5. You need five good batsmen. Haseeb Hameed has come through, Keaton Jennings started well. Has it been a good year for selection? GB We have had beginnings from those guys. That is it.
MV The selectors in Test cricket have had a shocker. Go back to Jimmy Anderson and that Lord’s Test match. Look at the England team as soon as Ben Stokes does not play, they look a very average team, even in our own conditions. They have stumbled across a top seven that will serve them well in 2017. If you look at Hameed, Ben Duckett was selected ahead of him but failed, so Hameed was picked by default. Then they had to fly in Jennings, so picked him by default. If they had picked the right squad and had a spare right-handed batsman in the middle order, Jos Buttler would not have been given an opportunity. He was picked at seven and it looks like a good position for him at this stage of his career. The top seven looks settled but by accident. Nick Compton was picked at the start of the summer, Gary Ballance was called up when he was struggling for form…
GB The selectors have not done a great job at home and, also, Alastair Cook and Bayliss when they were picking teams on the winter tour. They got selection wrong. It begs the question about Cook and Bayliss’s reading of pitches and overseas conditions. We know Cook is a cautious individual who only likes to play one way with seamers, slips and gullys, and Bayliss has not played Test cricket. Does he understand the international game? You both know Joe Root very well. Cook has said he is ready to be captain. What do you think? GB Is Cook telling us he is going then? I believe he is.
MV All I will say about captaincy is that when Nasser got the job in 1999, nobody thought he would be any good. He made a very good captain. Nobody said I would be any good, apart from the man to my right, but I made a pretty good fist of it. Then go on to Andrew Strauss, who got it by default because of the Kevin Pietersen fallout and made a very good job of it.
In terms of will he or won’t he, just don’t look at a player before he gets the job and make a judgment. As soon as you get the job, you do things differently. You don’t act the same way you did a player. Nasser changed as captain. He became very good around the camp. I surprised many because nobody sees what you are really like until you get the job. I would not be surprised, if Joe is given the job, that England will play a different way. England are set up to play an aggressive game.
They are going to be more suited to playing that McCullum style of cricket but it will take the captain to say to Stuart Broad and James Anderson: “If we take a second new ball on the first night, we are not having two slips, we are having five.” They need a captain who is going to say to the senior pair: “Forget your figures and attritional cricket. You are going to play my style of cricket, we are going to be a bit more risky and you are going to bowl a bit fuller, particularly in England.”
I think by doing that, England will move forward quite quickly.
GB Whoever is captain has to be brave and that is the problem with Alastair. He has no imagination or flair. Players will be given the chance to follow the new captain’s ideas even if they are a great bowler. If they don’t, then say thanks, off you go.
MV The reason I talk about the seamers is because the Strauss way was attritional because they had an outstanding spinner in Graeme Swann, so the seamers had to hold an end. Swann would get 90 per cent of left-handers out on days one to five.
If you have a high-class spinner, your seamers can hold an end, so your captaincy method changes. England do not have a high-class spinner now, so it is important as soon as the ball starts doing something that they attack, because there will come a stage when the ball does not do anything and you have not got a spinner to get you out of trouble. So, they have to have the right mindset as soon as the ball does something; they can’t bowl for dots, they need to bowl fuller to get wickets and forget the runs because now we back the batsmen to score runs as well. It is a mindset shift they need to go through.
GB We are lucky that we are in a period where we have Stokes. Botham, Flintoff and Stokes are rare gems. This kid has only scratched the surface of what he is capable of and is a rough diamond. With more responsibility, he will get better. He seems to be smart enough, too. Some of the silly things he did when he first started have stopped. He is calmer and more collected. England are lucky to have him and it means they can be much more positive because he balances the side.
MV I always look at a team from a captain’s perspective and I would lick my lips if I was asked to captain this team. Look at what they have got. Buttler is going to be a superstar. They have Root, Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and young bowlers coming through. I think Jake Ball is going to be a special bowler. Mark Wood is excellent, Chris Woakes is a terrific cricketer. Hameed and Jennings have great potential. The Champions Trophy is in England next summer. Can England win it?
MV Look at the last two Champions Trophies in England. We reached the final with poor teams. No idea how my team in 2004 reached the final. We were rubbish. England lost to India in the final in 2012, again they were not as good as this team. South Africa and Australia will be strong. In England, you need seamers with power and those two teams are like England but with quicker seamers. England’s
‘I would not be surprised, if Joe Root is made captain, that England start playing a different way’ On The Ashes... Australia’s selections have been doolally but they have pace. It’s down to England to match them On day-night Tests... Floodlit cricket will not work in England because we have cold nights ‘There are too many people running the game who are frightened of any kind of change ’
batting is deep and powerful. In one-day cricket, anything can happen. You need a bit of luck but England have enough in their tank to win it. The only issue in the one-day side is the confusion caused by Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales not going to Bangladesh. As much as the players will forget about it, they have to score a lot of runs in the India series in January. Get big scores and win England a couple of games and it will start to be forgotten and end the talk about whether Morgan should be the captain. Have England put too much emphasis on one-day cricket recently?
GB Yes. Andrew Strauss said as soon as he took over that white-ball cricket was his priority and that is why he made Bayliss coach ahead of Jason Gillespie. When we were losing in the United Arab Emirates a few weeks later, I said what about Test cricket? We ain’t that good. We ought to be better. Silence from Strauss.
MV I don’t remember a coach losing 12 in 22. The change in central contracts is now rewarding one-day specialists equally as a Test specialist. They will have to win a World Cup in 2019 to justify that. If it goes wrong next winter in Australia, then they better hope they put it right in 2019. The Aussies have struggled, lost badly to South Africa and been forced into big changes. Are England favourites to win the Ashes next winter?
MV They were. Every team has a kickup-the-backside moment and Australia’s happened in Hobart when they lost to South Africa and played as bad as any Australian team I have seen. They changed the top six since then.
GB That is what I am saying, England need to pick more youngsters.
MV Australia’s selection for the first two Tests against South Africa was doolally. I think they will be a lot stronger for it next year. They have pace and if Australia have Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood fit for next winter in Australia, it will be down to whether England have enough pace to match them. We saw what happened the last time when England could not match their pace, they lost 5-0. If Australia are smart and realise England only have Mark Wood, they will prepare quick, bouncy pitches and it will be a question of whether England can make the big scores again. England should not be surprised if they arrive in Australia and face bouncy pitches with pace.
GB We should not be going into an Ashes series with our off-spinner batting four and our wicketkeeper five. That tells me everything. You have to find quality batsmen. England have a chance with seven Test matches in England next summer to do that. They have found two young batsmen, get a third in. What have you got to lose? They have tried everyone else. I suppose Michael and I could put our pads on, but we’re past it. There are set to be big changes off the field in 2017. England are talking about a new Twenty20 and there are lots of suggestions for improving Test cricket.
MV I think this is the biggest year for English cricket. This is the year when there will be change. Will it be for the good of the game? I think there needs to be a T20 tournament passed through. Test match cricket needs to be looked at. I know Geoffrey always says: “What do the public want?” He is right. It is not about what I want, Geoffrey wants or you. What do the public want to pay to watch? I’m not sure about day-night cricket, though.
GB Even in my Cowdrey Lecture in 2005, I said floodlit cricket will not work in England because we have cold nights. But there is a big factor here about how much it costs to watch cricket in England. They should be selling family tickets where you buy tickets for two grown-ups and you get two kids in for free. That makes it cheaper for families.
Most of our Test matches, except for London, are not full. You could give 5,000 tickets away at Headingley. The other thing is, many people do not want to take a day off work but are interested in cricket. The biggest crowds are on Saturdays and Sundays, so maybe we need to try, not day-night cricket, but starting at 12 o’clock and play until seven in the week, because we have a twilight period in this country. A lot of people might then turn up for half a day of cricket or the last two sessions after work. Sell the tickets at a discounted price. There are too many people running the game who are frightened of change.
MV I would like to ask, what is it we want from cricket? It is not a limited company. What is it the administrators are after? Is it just filling the coffers so the game is covered if there is a cancelled series or some disaster? The ECB will get a massive new TV deal soon. What will that money be for?
Premier League football might go downhill because ticket prices are too high. If the ECB owns the rights to ticket sales, which I believe they will in future, they can lease the grounds off the counties and then sell the tickets. Don’t sell them six months in advance for £70 like they do now because you might not sell many and then get two weeks before the Test you can’t suddenly sell them for a tenner because it is not fair on the ones who have already bought tickets at full price.
GB They think success is getting more money in from TV deals. I see it differently. The lasting success of Test cricket is getting more bums on seats, so teams are playing in front of full houses. Cricket can’t just be on satellite TV. Sky deliver a great product but it is about getting it on free-toair TV. There is enough cricket in England to sell packages to satellite and freeto-air channels. I am not antisatellite. It is just that many people can’t afford it.
MV The key for TV is this: The first screen for my generation is TV. For kids it is tablets or Wizard of Oz: Australia captain Steve Smith wants the Ashes back
phones. My lad never watches the telly. He goes on YouTube and finds it on his tablet.
GB Every time you see an empty seat at a cricket match, it is a marketing opportunity. Years ago, in other parts of the world, the international cricket broadcast was blacked out in the state in Australia or island in the West Indies where the game was being played to encourage locals to come. Why doesn’t the ECB do the same? Tell television you have to black it out within a 50-mile radius of where the match is played. Then you get the best of both worlds: TV for people who live a long way away and bums on seats at the ground. The ECB is now in a prime position to call the shots in the next round of rights deals because Sky will not have it all its own way with BT Sport bidding as well. The ECB will want the money but crowds in Test cricket are going down and it is vital we do something about it.
Straight talking: (from left) Nick Hoult, Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan