England stranded without Strauss

England two times Ashes winning captain, Andrew Strauss, has retired from cricket.

Whilst it wasn’t utterly surprising to see him go (the writing was on the wall once England named their three captains for T20; ODIs and Tests) the speed of his departure and that he’s leaving first-class cricket entirely comes as quite a shock.

More importantly for England, despite Strauss’s protests about his own form, it leaves a gaping hole at the top of the England batting order.  Not only does Alastair Cook now have to open the batting and captain the side but he has to get used to a new opening partner, potentially an extremely inexperienced one.

There are various options open to Andy Flower and the England selectors: Michael Carberry and Joe Root are the next ‘cabs off the rank’ as it were; whereas Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell have the ability to open the batting and both have played that role in other formats.

However, a top six of Cook; Mr. X; Trott; Bell; and James Taylor (who seems to have made the transition rather well for a youngster); plus Johnny Bairstow and/or Ravi Bopara does not fill ThoughtSport with confidence ahead of a tour to India — followed by the small matter of the ever so slightly pressure-cooker environment of The Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen and a mute symbol

Kevin Pietersen: Will not be silenced

 

It lacks one vital ingredient for a sub-continent tour and Ashes: experience.  How the ECB must be wishing they could fit Kevin Pietersen with a universal mute button.  Despite their numerous attempts they have yet to achieve this.

Pietersen at four would add crucial nous to the top order.  Yes he’s a liability (both with bat or mobile phone in hand) but he’s an experienced one.  Bopara’s had more ‘second chances’ than hot dinners; and whilst Taylor and Bairstow are full of youthful vigour and

promise, even the best players can find touring India a tough mental challenge.

The noise, the pitches and the opposition are unlike any other.  Factor in the weather, the food and did we mention it’s darned hot out there?  The Ashes is something else too.  It attracts interest far beyond the usual reach of cricket in England (and Wales).  The brings a unique pressure of its own — just ask Bopara.

Strauss was not only a decent batsman but an excellent captain: solid, reliable, stoic.  He was the very picture of the Kipling poem, treating “those two imposters” just the same.  Whilst most of the media focus appears to be on how badly England will miss him off the pitch (he played a very, very large role in steadying the England ship after Pietersen ‘resigned’ from the captaincy) they will very much miss him on the pitch too.

England: Depths of despair?

The England cricket team are currently putting in some stellar performances in South Africa.  The eleventh man heroics of Graham Onions have been on the back page of most UK newspapers in the past few weeks.

Graham Onions & Graeme Swann - from dailymail.co.uk

Graham Onions & Graeme Swann - from dailymail.co.uk

Like most fans of the England cricket team, I have thoroughly enjoyed their efforts.  Paul Collingwood has inspired a number of topical “Grit shortage in the UK due to Colly having it for breakfast”-like gags.  Ian Bell has found himself moved from the ‘laughing stock’ to ‘solid as a rock’ in a matter of days.

I don’t want to rain on the parade but I’ve got some concerns.  Are the England cricket team a bit too similar to the England football team?

No, I know cricket doesn’t have penalty shoot-outs – yet.  What I’m getting at is the lack of depth.

Most people agree, Fabio Capello’s first XI would give almost any team in the world a decent run for their money.  On present form the Andy’s (Flower and Strauss) and their England cricket team would match that billing too.

But (there always is one – there has to be!) what about the back-ups?  England shorn of Gerrard and Lampard, or Ferdinand and Terry – even without Emile Heskey look a different proposition.

Second XI or second rate?

Where would the cricket team be without the magnificent Graeme Swann?  Stuart Broad has recently opted out of the IPL to ensure he gets some much needed rest.  As a strapping 6’7″ fast-bowler who also bats a bit – Broad’s body goes through more rigours than most – what happens if/when he breaks down?

Luke Wright is touted as a decent all-rounder – but is ‘decent’ enough to be in the England team?  Who else is there?  Tim Bresnan?  The stocky Yorkshire bowler has put in some good stints for England but is far from the match-winner Broad has shown himself to be (citation: The Oval 2009 Ashes).

Adil Rashid: Going backwards?

Adil Rashid: Going backwards?

In the spin department Adil Rashid seems to have been going backwards lately.  Once touted as England’s answer to Shane Warne – the talented youngster was pushed aside in favour of James Tredwell the minute Swann had even a twinge of an injury.

Is Tredwell the answer?  He may be – he’s hardly had the chance to show it either way which means if Swann does get crocked (and he’s had elbow trouble recently, as well as a back complaint) England are turning to a Test novice to bowl the huge number of overs Swann gets through.

Harmison and Hoggard (after valiant service) have been effectively retired by the selection panel.  What are England’s strike bowling options if James Anderson is hurt?

That’s just the bowling – the same can be said of the batting too.  Kevin Pietersen’s woeful recent form is highlighted further by the lack of options to replace him.  There is no pressure on the mercurial ‘KP’.  The fear of losing his place with the Jo’burg Test would soon find him picking himself up.

Ian Bell used to be that cover after his relegation from the XI but England’s opting to go with six batsmen has already put Bell back in the side, at the expense of the retired Flintoff.

Ravi Bopara has joined Owais Shah on the scrap-heap – at least for now.  Shah’s recent comments about the selectors would seem to have applied the coup-de-gras to his dying international career.  Bopara’s time may come again – but not until he’s had the time to rebuild his shattered confidence.

Michael Carberry is the spare batsman currently on the tour.  He’s undoubtedly talented but falls into the same trap as Tredwell – lack of international experience.  Of course there’s only one way to get that – but do England really want that time to be a moment of crisis when a top six batsman is injured?

Look at the way Australia do things.  Ok, they may not be the world cricket power they once were but the production line of talent Down Under ain’t too shabby.

Current top-order batsman Simon Katich served his apprenticeship in the lower-order.  Marcus North is being brought along the same way.  Justin Langer trod that well worn path too.

England’s number five and six?  Collingwood and Bell.  Not exactly new kids on the block being primed for their (and England’s) future.

Let’s all cross our fingers that both the football and cricket teams can have their first choice XIs primed and ready whenever they need them.  Otherwise… well, let’s just cross our fingers.