In the early half of the 2000s, England’s white-ball dreams were only dreams even when the team had some of the best players in the world. However, come the 2010s, and onwards, the entire situation took a different turn, with white-ball becoming the one true dream for the country.
2021 World T20 in the Middle East, 2022 World T20 in Australia and finally 2023 ODI World Cup in India, England have a unique opportunity to surmount their ICC trophies from two to five in the span of three years. The truth is they deserve every bit of it. Since the shambles in Australia, the Three Lions have transformed themselves into a real beast, becoming a benchmark in world cricket.
But that’s where the issue lies, England’s one-eyed approach with white-ball cricket has certainly transformed into results, with the 2019 ODI World Cup coming home. Heading into the 2019 Ashes, the focus was not on the red-ball squad but the selector himself, Ed Smith. The 44-year-old was in the middle of all red-ball talks in English cricket, anything that happened terribly, the eyes were fixated on him.
Every blame was automatically transferred to him and so on and so forth. England stuck by Smith’s rules and the downfall was attributed to him, Twitter went into a meltdown and his reign had come to an end in 2021. Chris Silverwood, who was the head coach, then became the selector but unfortunately for England, nothing on the pitch has changed. A 3-1 loss against India, away from home, 1-0 loss at the hands of New Zealand and red-ball cricket was yet again in focus.
Ahead of this marquee series, England had no scapegoats, no Ed Smith, no scrappy pitch, no terrible umpiring and plenty of home advantage to go with it. The squad was picked by Silverwood, the man who was going to use his resources, and yet somehow we are back to square one. England’s red-ball dreams will only stand as a dream, hear me out!
Silverwood, during his stint as the coach, insisted that he wasn’t a scientist - no rocket science involved, he clearly admitted. His approach - we need big first-innings runs - as simple as it suggests, had haunted England. Since 1950, the Three Lions’ total in Trent Bridge, 183, was their second-lowest total in the first innings at home, the lowest being 179.
It certainly wasn’t surprising and more importantly, wasn’t any bit disappointing, for it was meant to come. It was always coming; it was there to be seen. Out of the top six, only three batsmen walked into the first Test having faced the red ball since the second Test against New Zealand and in total, played 466 deliveries. England lost six wickets for 22 runs, in the span of 59 deliveries, four ducks in the innings, second-lowest total at home. Can the Three Lions or their dreams get fruition any time?
To top it all, the entire red-ball squad were there in the country playing for the various franchises in England’s brainchild The Hundred, days away from the Indian series. Last time in 2018, they definitely did not have an easy pass, they fought tooth and nail to win the series, even though on paper, it reads 4-1 to the hosts.
It is not the inability of the batsmen, the inability of the bowlers, the selectors or the head coach to not go head to head against India but the inability of the system. England don’t quite understand Test cricket, at least now, years after they were involved in one of the best Test series of the centuries.
They might have Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Joe Root spearheading them to victories here and there but that isn’t the solution, at least that isn’t the plan for a long-term win. England need to start learning that Test cricket is a format on its own, independent of whatever happens on the white-ball scene. The worry isn’t ECB’s The Hundred, it isn’t the fact that they have one of the best squads in white-ball cricket but the fact that they have not quite understood red-ball cricket.
England did not underestimate the visitors but rather overestimated themselves. Overestimated the fact that their red-ball team is in its glorious kind. As the quote goes, dreams do come true but only as long as one works towards it. The rather unfortunate truth for the Three Lions is that they haven’t quite unearthed the best of the system.
The Hundred needs high-profile players but at what cost? Not at the cost of their Test stars being used as puppets for all the marketing agendas. As Dobell mentions in his article, “The Hundred is not the cause of this issue; it's a symptom.” England’s dismal performance is not a cause but rather a symptom of the entire system that has somehow judicially targeted and uplifted the welfare of the white-ball team.
"Of course you would want them to play a certain amount of red-ball cricket going into it. We all appreciate that trying to get all the cricket in for what you need across the whole summer - county teams, The Hundred, all these competitions going on - there's no easy solution to get this right and something always has to give,” uttered, or you could say mumbled, Marcus Trescothick, who is not just England’s batting coach but a stalwart of English cricket.
When one of England’s stalwarts of the game points out the scheduling as a concern, it is a genuine concern and what’s more concerning is how England have perceived Test cricket in the past year. Just an eye on the selection will utter a tale of its own - batsmen with potential have been favoured over batsmen with results, players with white-ball records have been slapped onto the Test squad without many questions.
Even if you take all of it away and bin it, England’s inability to understand spin has been a concept that would never be understood. As Essex’s head coach, Silverwood not just battled for Simon Harmer but made the off-spinner an integral part of the larger puzzle, as they reached the first division. With the England team, he has bowed down on the same vows - Jack Leach has played zero home Tests since the 2019 Ashes. He is perhaps England’s best spinner in the country and instead the Three Lions preferred Dominic Bess of Yorkshire for his batting ability, even if it came at the expense of bowling firepower.
England’s unrealistic understanding of the game is the biggest worry, an understanding that the system in place isn’t yielding results because it isn’t run with the required vigour, the entire system has failed where it was meant to succeed.
One of the major reasons behind England not going with Leach is because it would topple their batting and make it extremely lopsided. It makes it lopsided, top teams in the world have spinners but also have six batsmen, who on their own legs would conjure up scores. Bess has featured at home not because he is one of the better spinners but because he could hold the bat and score runs.
Unfortunately for England, their domestic system, over the past few years, hasn't quite produced cricketers one after another who have shown unreal consistency. Their red-ball crown would only stand as a dream but a dream that is, unfortunately, unfathomable and unattainable for the Three Lions, who haven’t quite figured out that Test cricket holds any importance to the country.