x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

England need to change to advance

Greatness has to be earned. It cannot be bestowed over a summer or two years. Cricketing immortality is even harder to attain.

The world No 1 side need to look ahead of their old guard to bowlers such as Steven Finn.
The world No 1 side need to look ahead of their old guard to bowlers such as Steven Finn.

Finn is needed to move as a team

If England's cricketers needed any reminder of the need for renewal, those of them that watched footage from the Olympic Games on Saturday night would have got it.

There was a time when Michael Phelps epitomised sporting domination, when the idea of him losing a big race was as unthinkable as the West Indies losing a Test series in the 1980s.

But time and sport wait for no one. On Saturday, Ryan Lochte thrashed Phelps out of sight in the 4x100m individual medley.

If their contest had taken place in the boxing ring and not the swimming pool, the referee would have stopped it; so emphatic was Lochte's superiority.

Last summer, there were times when England looked like the complete cricket side.

India offered the resistance of a Coke can under a tyre, but in truth, they were not often allowed to play.

The English batsmen stepped up in times of crisis and the bowlers were relentless.

Having beaten Australia 3-1 in their own backyard months earlier, it was almost inevitable that some started talking of England as a "great" team.

Greatness has to be earned. It cannot be bestowed over a summer or two years. Cricketing immortality is even harder to attain, because of the vast difference in conditions in different parts of the world.

As Michael Holding wrote in a column for Wisden India recently: "I don't want to be boasting about the West Indies team that I played for, but we won everywhere - in all conditions, home and away, sunshine or snow. Several teams have the potential to be great, but they have to show it on the field."

Since England displaced India at the top of the rankings, they have lost five of nine Tests.

Against South Africa at The Oval, they looked as pedestrian as India had last summer.

Alastair Cook made an opening-day hundred, but no batsman ground the opposition down as Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis would do with such ruthlessness later. There were diffident shots and unnecessarily cavalier ones, and at the end of it, South Africa had won while losing just two wickets to England's 20.

The bowlers offered no more than a medium-pace threat. On a pitch that offered no extravagant lateral movement, bowling with little hostility in a channel outside off stump served no purpose. If the aim was to outlast South Africa in a battle of patience, it failed miserably.

Holding was not the only one who thought that Steven Finn's extra pace was badly missed.

Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan starred often during the run of success that took England to No 1. But without a pace option to respond to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the series is as good as lost.

Bresnan and Broad were noticeably quicker last summer, and their lukewarm showing at The Oval made you question the wisdom of not giving them a first-class outing in the seven weeks following the final Test against West Indies in June.

Teams can be reluctant to break up what they feel is a winning combination, but England need only look to their Ashes rivals to see the benefits.

Steve Waugh led Australia to a World Cup in 1999, but was not even included in the 30-man list for 2003. Without him, they won a further two World Cups without losing a game.

Before his final summer of cricket in 2003/04, the selectors also told him that there would be no more tilts at the final frontier, India, the following year. Without him and with Michael Clarke newly installed in the middle order, Australia, who had last tasted success in India in 1969, won 2-1.

In football, Barcelona replaced Samuel Eto'o with David Villa, and the masterclass they provided in the 2011 Champions League final was even more awe-inspiring than the 2009 exhibition.

The great teams never stand still.


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