WHAT happens when you shove the County Championship to the margins of the season, cut the number of games, put all your focus on white-ball cricket and introduce preposterous concepts such as The Hundred?
You get results such as England’s innings defeat to New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, an entirely predictable, horribly deflating, miserable by-product of the way that the England and Wales Cricket Board are running the game.
It is not just Joe Root, new coach Chris Silverwood and so on who should face the music after this latest shambles – one of many in overseas Test matches in recent times.
It is the ECB hierarchy and the counties themselves – including Yorkshire – who are to blame for the way that first-class cricket has gradually deteriorated in this country, the knock-on effect being (surprise, surprise) that England are a desperately limited Test match team, whatever the ICC rankings may say.
It is not disappointment that many England supporters feel right now, to judge by the various forums and social media platforms, it is anger.
They are entirely right to feel that way.
Due mainly to a systemic failure so obvious that even a blind man wearing a blindfold could see it, the players are clearly unable to consistently produce the sort of cricket needed at Test level.Chris Waters
Results like this are hardly one-offs – indeed, they are starting to become common, dare one say even tolerated and accepted by the powers-that-be, perhaps because, deep down, they know that they are more culpable than anyone else.
England do not prioritise Test cricket, or the pathway to it of the County Championship, and, quite frankly, it shows.
Due mainly to a systemic failure so obvious that even a blind man wearing a blindfold could see it, the players are clearly unable to consistently produce the sort of cricket needed at Test level.
Root and Silverwood talked long before the series about England playing a more patient, disciplined, old-fashioned game, one where the Boycottian virtues of crease occupation are valued as opposed to mocked, as if, by the way, that this was some sort of stunning revelation.
So what happened?
New Zealand beat them at their own game (or, at least, the game that England now profess to want to play), amassing 615-9 declared in their solitary innings.
Why, England did not even score as many runs in their second innings (197) as New Zealand wicketkeeper BJ Watling managed off his own bat (205).
Watling batted for 11 hours and faced 437 balls. That is the type of innings that wins a Test match.
England started the game reasonably well – but only reasonably. They were 241-4 after day one, but none of their first innings half-century makers, Ben Stokes, Joe Denly or Rory Burns, could convert to three figures. In the second innings, no England batsman passed 35.
For all that our players are not given the best chance to succeed by the ECB, many of the second innings dismissals were awful to watch.
Dominic Sibley pushed at a wide ball and was caught behind; Rory Burns swept aggressively out of the rough and was caught at mid-wicket; Root steered to gully, seemingly trying to leave a ball that he really wanted to attack but thought that he should probably defend in the brave new era; Stokes chopped on; Ollie Pope stretched for a wide full toss and slapped it to cover; Jos Buttler left a ball that hit off stump.
When you think of all the money at the ECB’s disposal, not to mention that earned by the players themselves, supporters are getting some abject returns.
Root’s captaincy is also attracting criticism; Jonathan Agnew described some of the bowling plans as “bewildering” at times.
The Yorkshireman’s handling of Jofra Archer was also cited, while Root’s Test average as captain has dropped below 40; he averaged over 50 before taking the armband.
One feels for Root, though, and also for Silverwood, for the biggest problem remains the broken system.
Celebrate and champion The Hundred if you want, and good luck if you’re in the 10 per cent or so of English cricket fans who seem able to do that.
But with worrying noises that The Hundred could clash with the Championship in 2021, thus further reducing the quality of a four-day tournament already marginalised and stripped of top players by international commitments/franchise events, England’s Test fortunes are only likely to get worse – not better.