The county’s director of cricket has leapt to the defence of his young England charges, who are being lambasted by such as Willis in his guise as a leading television pundit.
After England’s 2-0 Test series defeat on their ongoing tour of UAE, Willis said that Jonny Bairstow “hasn’t any sort of defence to play Test cricket, looks like a rabbit in the headlights and can’t bat above No 8 in an England Test team in the future”.
The former pace bowler described leg-spinner Adil Rashid as “completely useless” and said “there’s no way in the world” England can take him to South Africa next month because “the grounds aren’t big enough”, adding that “AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla will be hitting him into the ocean at Durban”.
Willis’s remarks follow fierce condemnation of Yorkshire batsmen Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance earlier this year, both of whom were dropped by England.
Willis said Lyth is “out of his depth” and will “never make it for England”, while Ballance was rubbished as someone who “bats with his shoelaces tied together”.
Willis, chief pundit on Sky Sports programme The Verdict, also questioned what the performances of Yorkshire’s players at Test level – Joe Root apart – said about the club’s achievement in winning back-to-back County Championships and the county system overall.
“Only Joe Root has come out of that side into the England camp and done anything consistently, so there must be something wrong with the County Championship system,” said Willis.
Moxon agrees that county cricket is not perfect – not least in that batsmen no longer face top-quality pace bowling as they did in his and Willis’s day due to the crowded international schedule – but says it is unfairly blamed when England lose.
He branded Willis’s remarks “disrespectful” and said people should be supporting England’s youngsters – not vilifying them.
“I think the criticism is brutal,” said Moxon.
“I just can’t watch it any more, to be honest.
“I don’t care what people say about trying to ignore criticism, but it’s very difficult when you have things like that. It’s bound to have an effect.
“There’s been criticism flying around in various quarters, and I think Willis is anti-Yorkshire, I’ll be honest.
“Any chance he gets to have a dig, he will.
“As for county cricket, it’s always county cricket’s fault whenever England lose and that’s what annoys me.
“I would agree that county cricket isn’t perfect for developing Test cricketers, but I would argue that it never has been and that players have been successful in spite of the system, not because of it.”
Willis’s criticism of Bairstow and Rashid following the recent Test series was particularly damning.
Bairstow was the standout batsman in county cricket last summer by a distance, averaging 92, and consistently impressive behind the stumps, while Rashid contributed with bat and ball. When Bairstow missed a stumping off Rashid in the final Test in Sharjah, the wicketkeeper was hammered – not least by pundit Willis.
“I don’t know what Jonny’s done wrong to people, but to highlight in minute detail any mistake he might make, whether that be batting or keeping, is unfair,” said Moxon.
“Jos Buttler has been allowed to make a few errors as keeper, but it’s all, ‘Oh, Jos Buttler, he’s learning his trade’, and it seems to be one rule for Jonny and one rule for the others – what about Matt Prior, for example, when he was dropping all those catches in Sri Lanka?
“I just think it’s over-the-top and it’s making the lad a bag of nerves in that he doesn’t feel he can go out and express himself because every criticism is highlighted.
“He’s in-and-out of the team and always having to prove himself, and it’s the same with Rash.”
Moxon fears Bairstow does not yet feel truly part of the England side and is fretting for his place.
He also questions the messages being given to Rashid.
“For me, Jonny doesn’t feel truly part of that team at the minute and he can’t relax and play as we know Jonny can because he’s always trying to have to prove himself,” he said.
“You’re not going to get the best out of him until he feels that he’s got that backing and that run in the team, and then you’ll get the performances.
“As for Rash, we know he’s not the finished article, and I don’t know what’s being said to him, but I just want him to be encouraged to spin the ball and not worry about how many runs he’s going for or the pace he’s bowling at, and then, in time, hopefully you’ll have a match-winning Test bowler on your hands.
“But to write him off after three Tests is incredible – particularly when he’s got a five-for in one of them.”
Moxon hopes new England coach Trevor Bayliss will back the pair and believes Lyth and Ballance can come again.
“Both are high-quality players,” he said.
Waters on Cricket: Page 20