Monday, August 4, 2008

More questions than answers - Zephirine

The simultaneous resignation of England cricket captains Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood yesterday, and the appointment of Kevin Pietersen today, raise several questions.

a) Why did Vaughan decide to go?
First of all, although he is one of England’s most gifted batsmen he has been in horrible form for a long while, and has reached a point where he could hardly justify his place in a Test side. No doubt this has combined with the stresses of captaincy into a vicious circle of mental fatigue, and this is pretty much the reason he gave in his resignation statement. However, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that this is not the only reason.

Many critics have been carping at his captaincy, with its apparent closed-shop approach, its chummy nicknames and ‘Vaughany’s gang’ feel, and its familiar parade of press-conference cliches about positivity – mostly because he hasn’t been winning. Yet this system worked superbly for him in the past. With Duncan Fletcher as coach, he created a side that depended on close bonding, shored up by the security of central contracts – and by success. Has it gone stale because Vaughan himself is tired and stressed, because of lack of talent to surround him, or because as a system for the national team within the England set-up, it could not work long-term?

It has been obvious that Vaughan has not agreed with the selectors recently, most notably over the choice of Darren Pattinson, a competent bowler who acquitted himself well in his one Test match but has mostly played in Australia and was unknown to almost everyone in the England set-up. Vaughan let it be known that he felt this selection – combined with dropping his ally Paul Collingwood for the same Test – led to ‘confusion’. He then had a lengthy meeting with the Chairman of Selectors Geoff Miller, which apparently ‘cleared the air’. So much so, in fact, that a few weeks afterwards Vaughan was clearing his desk.

The England coach Peter Moores clearly does not have the relationship with Vaughan that his predecessor Fletcher did. Perhaps Vaughan thinks Moores is rubbish. Perhaps Moores thinks Vaughan is complacent and past it. Hard to tell, because they haven’t been seen much together. They have never shown the world that they formed a working team.

b) Why did Paul Collingwood decide to go?
His resignation has received less attention than Vaughan’s, but is in many ways more surprising.

For those unfamiliar with cricket structures, it should be explained that the captaincy of a national side is not normally split, but this is happening more often as the shorter forms of the game take on greater importance. The received wisdom is that it makes for trouble within the ranks and that the Test captain (the senior partner) can be undermined by an upstart captain of one-day games. In this case, Collingwood is a close friend of Vaughan, and became one-day captain at a time when Vaughan was already struggling with his form after massive injury problems. There is every sign that they have worked very well together.

Colly has his own brand of dauntless competitiveness, but he has not been altogether successful as captain. He made a serious error of judgment in one match and is currently serving a suspension for not controlling the over-rate. So he may perhaps have felt that it was not really the job for him. On the other hand he was not doing badly enough in terms of results for anyone to demand that he should go.

Like Vaughan he has been in terrible form, but in the last Test batted himself back with a superb innings. It is quite likely, though, that he had already taken the decision to give up the captaincy before he went out for that innings, and so freed up his mind to play at his best.

Did he jump or was he pushed? Some journalists are asserting that he was sacked, others are suggesting that he was asked to step down because the selectors wanted one captain in charge of both teams.

Given their friendship it is impossible to believe that Vaughan and Collingwood did not discuss their situations. If Vaughan’s relationship with the selectors and coach had deteriorated to the point where he no longer wanted to be captain, it seems likely that Collingwood would feel that he, too, wanted to pack it in.

c) Why has there really only been one candidate for the next captain?
Sadly, the current England team contains far too many players who are performing way below their ability, and some whose ability at Test level is questionable. Kevin Pietersen is actually the only player who is guaranteed a place in both test and one-day sides on the basis of his current playing.

This is a pretty shocking state of affairs and suggest that there are deep-seated problems in both the selection and coaching of England cricket players.

Duncan Fletcher demanded central contracts because he felt that the county system did not prepare players properly for the national side. However, it seems that we now have centrally contracted players who are not dropped or rested when out of form, and the county system is still not putting through enough talented players.

d) Will Kevin Pietersen make a good captain?
Who knows?

He certainly has a Marmite personality, some find him obnoxious and others immature, some enjoy his enthusiasm and others see him as an irresponsible brat.

My own view is that he’ll last one series. Two at the outside. And that someone else will captain England in the all-important Ashes series next year.


Ebren said...

It's interesting that no one is mentioning Bell as a possible captain. His form is as good as almost anyone's and he seems to have come into his own in the ODIs at last.

I'm not saying he's the ideal man or better than Pietersen - but why no mentions?

MotM said...

I'm backing KP. Nobody will blame him for losing vs India and then there's only WI before a shoehorned SL series that will get no notice unless the top SL players are selected and then the Big One.

KP is the only candidate, but he's also a good candidate.

zeph said...

It remains to be seen, Mouth. Personally I think the overall poor performances and lack of talent are far bigger concerns than the identity of the captain. Is that going to change, and if so, how?

Ebren said...

Lack of talent is an interesting point. To draw an analogy with football, we can definitively assess the talent a nation has by looking to club football and see the players play 40/50 games a season against each other and some of the best players from other countries.

In cricket, the Test side is almost impossible to judge. The barely play outside the national side, and when they do the players they play against are of no comparable quality. This means it's easy to overlook/deride county figures and the top players don't even play for their counties much either.

Honestly, if the England, SA, Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Kiwi players were all regularly competing in FC games in whichever countries you could fairly assess the talent. As it is, it's hard to separate the talent from the international set up. Is a poor environment holding these players back? What about poor captaincy? Overwork? Under-preparation?

My inkling is that the batting talent is there, the bowling less so. But without good data, it's hard to say.

zeph said...

Absolutely right, Ebren. We had a thing called the Schofield Report which was supposed to address all that. And what did we get? Geoff Miller.

zeph said...

Ebren: too many questions have been asked about Bell's backbone. The damaging statistic that he never makes a big score until the pressure's off has had more bloggers calling for his head than his captaincy.

And he wouldn't sell as many shirts as Kev, would he?

andrewm said...

Mouth, were you originally calling for Key to come in as captain, or was that someone else on GU? I found that very interesting (it was mentioned in the Times as well). If it was you, I assume you've wanted him in the team for some time, not just as a reaction to Vaughan leaving?

MotM said...

Andrewm - I would have been happy with Key or KP.

Key, I've felt for some time, might be a Hayden / Langer (especially as he came back as an opener) / Lehmann / Martyn type who might benefit from a second coming. He's fitter and has a wider range of shots than most. He's fairly level-headed and shows good leadership skills.

Had Key been picked, a top order of:

Key (Capt)

looks pretty solid to me.

In India, you then replace Colly or Strauss with Swann. To be radical at The Oval, replace Strauss with Ravi.

andrewm said...

And you think he could have come straight in as captain and had the necessary respect from his teammates?

andrewm said...

Actually, Mouth, I feel like I'm asking you to repeat points that I know you'll have made elsewhere, so unless you want to enlighten other pseuds then don't worry about it.

MotM said...

No problem Andrewm

I think Key could have come in. None of the others (ex KP) have much to brag about!

zeph said...

It depends whether you think captaincy itself is a skill and experience in it is valuable, in which case Key would be a serious contender because of his proven success. The selectors don't seem to think that way, as KP has captained precisely one match in his entire career, they obviously think it's something you can pick up as you go along.

offsideintahiti said...

Fascinating stuff all this, but, er... what does a cricket captain do?

guitougoal said...

selling many shirts according to Zeph.

Zephirine said...

Offie: quite a lot, more than in most sports. Read this..

Unfortunately as with many sports, marketing is starting to rule, so yes, selling shirts too.

mimi said...

Great to see you here Zeph, and very good piece. Pertinent questions raised.

I'm prepared to give KP the benefit of the doubt - he is an outstanding cricketer, he certainly has a cricketing brain and whether or not having a large personality is a good or bad thing for a captain, I think depends on each individual.

Not knowing the ins and outs of dressing room gossip I don't know if he has the trust and respect of his colleagues. If he does, he could well be a rip-roaring success. If he doesn't, his tenure will no doubt be brief.

I'm amazed at the lack of opprobrium aimed (not aimed) at the selectors and Geoff Miller in particular. It is hard to see what, if anything, has come from the Schofield report, and the whole Country v County situation seems worse now than it was when Fletcher was in charge.

Two days to go til the Oval. Maybe we'll learn something during the course of this final Test.

Zephirine said...

Yes, Mimi, the selectors have a lot to answer for. Not least the curious chicken-and-egg situation whereby Geoff Miller let it be known some time ago that he wanted to have a single captain, thereby making it pretty obvious that it would inevitably have to be KP unless Strauss could get himself back into one-day cricket before Vaughan left.

Were Sky more keen to bid huge sums for English cricket if the celeb KP was captain rather than the tired Vaughan or the low-key Strauss?

The whole thing stinks. I'm not a great Vaughan admirer but it's pretty obvious that something's been going on and he'd had enough.

guitougoal said...

hello mimi,
Bell as a possible captain said Ebren...I thought the Bell captains were in charge of bellhops, I am so ignorant about cricket science, I couldn't learn from Nestaquin himself!

andrewm said...

Speaking of nesta, that is you writing over there, isn't it Mouth? I wish I'd known that before.

offsideintahiti said...

Help! I'm lost in the cricket section of wikipedia!

Ebren said...

there's only one way to get out of a cricket section - LBW

zeph said...

We'll leave you in there for a bit, Offie, and then you won't be able to claim total ignorance any more.... though you may be so traumatised that you forget it all again...

munni said...

I clicked on Zeph's link and didn't understand a word of it, but I'm rather amused that the captain of Argentina is called MacDermott and the captain of Belgium is Malik.

zeph said...

Munni, I'm fairly startled that Belgium has a cricket team at all.

mimi said...

Hello yourself, Gui.

I am currently finding it hard enough to justify my faith in the Bell-Boy (though he's fielding nicely today), that I couldn't enter into a debate about his potential as an FEC.

offsideintahiti said...

I thought the captain of the Belgian cricket team was this guy:

I'm still lost in wikipedia and no one is coming to fetch me, boohoo.

zeph said...

You have to 'declare', Offie, then your innings has finished early and you can come out:)

zeph said...

Anyway, today in the fourth Test the boys have done good under their new captain Kipper Pietersen, but as the South Africans have already won the series it's hard to get excited about it.

I guess we'll have to wait for the autobiographies to come out before we get the real answers.

offsideintahiti said...

Kipper, Haddock... close enough, non?

zeph said...

Obviously a relative.

zeph said...

Kipper doesn't have a beard though.

offsideintahiti said...

Does he swear much?

mimi said...

Offie - Vaughan was the sweary one.

Though Kev probably swears fluently in Africaans.

guitougoal said...

get out offie, cricket is a contagious virus , you may catch the cricket fever from mimi or zeph if you don't run away presto, subito.

Tweet it, digg it