After a shock defeat to Scotland and a string of poor performances, the England head coach is under immense scrutiny this summer.
As the touring Australians arrive in town for the start of a One-day International Series, last Sunday’s game against minnows Scotland was portrayed a gentle warm-up game for England. None of the Scotland side are currently employed as professional county cricketers, (Opening Bowler Omar Sherriff & Top Order batsman Callum Mcleod have subsequently been picked up by Derbyshire for the T20 Blast), and the game was supposed to be a routine win for Eoin Morgan’s men.
However, this turned out to be anything but. After a strange decision to put Scotland into bat by Morgan, England was run ragged by some power hitting from Scotland’s top order. Despite the tiny boundaries and excellent wicket, 370 was always going to be tough chase, and with a feverish crowd sensing an upset, and Scotland played the game of their lives. England ended 10 short, and thoroughly deserved to lose to a Scotland team that outplayed England in every department, including worryingly, commitment and desire. Although Scotland has improved steadily in recent years and was extremely unlucky to fail to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, this was a shock of the highest order for England, the likes of which haven’t been since a Kevin O’Brien inspired Ireland stunned us in 2011. Which begs the question, has Coach Trevor Bayliss taken England as far as he can?
England’s One Day record in recent years has papered over ever-widening cracks that have been appearing for some time in the England set-up. Their performances in Test Matches away from home has been nothing short of woeful in recent years, with a 4-0 defeat away in India in 2016, leading to the shambolic performances this winter in Australia and New Zealand, which saw England fail to win a single game in the longer format. The defeat in the First Test of summer against Pakistan at Lords further heightened the public dismay towards coach Bayliss, and if results fail to improve this summer in the Test Series against India, then the ECB must surely be considering a replacement in the longer format before Australia return to English shores next Summer for the Ashes.
Although Bayliss has proven to be a popular figure in the dressing room, a number of perplexing decisions in recent times that have diminished his credibility. His admission that he “hasn’t got time to watch County Cricket”, has hardly warmed him to English cricket fans, and it appears to be apparent with recent England selections. The unforgivable omission of Adil Rashid this winter in favour of Mason Crane, an uncapped spinner who rarely plays for his county Hampshire in the longer format, was a decision bordering on stupidity. Coupled with the unmerited recall for James Vince, whom once again flattered to deceive, and the ongoing failure to find Alastair Cook a partner at the top of the order, England appear to be lurching from one disaster to another. It is important to note these decisions don’t rely solely upon Bayliss, and the English selection panel has since changed from the Winter down under (for the better it would appear), but a more hands-on approach from Bayliss would have been not only welcome but expected in his role.
Despite the horrendous winter, England endured in Test Matches, their One Day performances remained steady, with series win’s in Australia and New Zealand to confirm their status as the best side currently in the world. Bayliss was initially brought in as One Day specialist by Andrew Strauss, and in that area, there is no doubt that England has improved significantly. Unfortunately, despite this, they are still yet to win a major trophy under Bayliss’s tutorage. As with most England sides over the years, they continue to become unstuck at vital moments, such as the last over in the 2016 20/20 World Cup Final, and with the underwhelming performance against Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy on home soil. This inability to get over the line in vital moments has become a hallmark of Bayliss’s reign, both in the longer and shorter formats of the game.
This summer’s fixtures will present a great indication of where England are currently at. The upcoming Test Series against India, the No.1 ranked side in the world in the longer format, will prove a huge challenge to England. One would suspect England should prevail in home conditions, but crazy scheduling sees all 5 Tests played after the 1st August, and this will certainly play into India’s hands. If previous summers are to go by, then dry, dusty wickets will greet both teams, and India will be delighted – not only should their spinners enjoy conditions similar to home, but England’s seam attack will be nullified somewhat.
Strangely, for a proud Test nation such as England, the upcoming ODI series against Australia, and then to finish the summer, with India, may be crucial for Bayliss to retain goodwill amongst the powers that be. A defeat against a severely weakened Australian side, with a number of key players out with due to injury or suspension, would be a huge disappointment, and if the Test team fail to deliver again, then defeat by India in the ODI series could be a knockout blow.
With such a huge year of cricket ahead of England in 2019, Bayliss needs to up his team’s game in all formats. Although he may have gained enough credit in the One Day arena to keep his job for the 2019 World Cup, one more poor Test series should be enough for the English Cricket Board to split their coaching priorities into two and appoint a specialist in that format. A more radical suggestion is to dispense with Bayliss at the end of the summer and allow the new coach time to bed the side before the summer of 2019. Due to England’s conservative nature, this remains highly unlikely, although more poor performances may be enough to see the axe fall.