Lack of fury over fate of Broad and Anderson should have ECB worried | Ali Martin
The Ashes aftershocks have rumbled on over the past week, and on Tuesday peaked with the news that neither Jimmy Anderson nor Stuart Broad will feature when the so-called “red-ball reset” begins in the Caribbean next month.
Both are known to be hurt to miss out and a touch miffed at being told in a couple of short, sharp phone calls rather than in person. Broad was literally raging against the machine in his final outing – picking a fight with a robot camera that kept moving on the boundary’s edge in Hobart.
In the boardroom at the England and Wales Cricket Board, with pictures of the record-breaking pair on the wall, Andrew Strauss tried to explain the rationale. He insisted Anderson and Broad would still be “in the mix” come the summer and this was a case of separating out England’s strategy home and away.
It was also not, he claimed, a case of either being a negative dressing-room presence. “They are exceptional performers on the field and very professional off it, which is why they have played for so long,” said Strauss. “It gives an opportunity at the moment for people to stand up and play leadership roles they haven’t previously.”
On the flip side, hasn’t an environment that has appeared soft for some time now suddenly become even softer? Anderson and Broad may be grouchy old pros at 39 and 35 respectively but they also set a fiercely high standard; more fool the teammate who hasn’t mined their combined 321 caps of nous or been driven to emulate their ongoing commitment to physical conditioning.
Certainly Matthew Fisher, plucked from Yorkshire on promise and one of two uncapped seamers alongside Saqib Mahmood, is disappointed he will not work alongside them. Chris Woakes, surprisingly reprieved, is now the senior bowler on tour with 42 caps, with Mark Wood (25), Ollie Robinson (nine) and Craig Overton (six) combining for fewer.
Strauss spoke of a “new cycle” starting – a phrase that grinds the gears of many who feel England have too often been guilty of not focusing on the Test in front of them – but as an interim director of cricket without designs on a return full time, it is debatable whether he had the mandate to make such a significant policy shift.
Logically, the main aim of the caretaker management team on the five-week tour should be to steady the listing ship. Fresh blood was clearly required in the batting department but shoring up the captaincy of Joe Root results-wise should be the priority before the new director of cricket, selector and head coach outline their vision.
To that end, and with Jofra Archer and Olly Stone still injured, one or both of Anderson and Broad would surely have helped Root here, even if the Sydney Test – when the pair became slightly leggy in the second innings and Wood’s workload went up – suggested their days in the same XI should be limited.
The input from the Test captain, who was in the selection meeting but without a vote, is a bit vague too. After all, at the end of the Ashes walloping, Root was asked whether he wanted Anderson and Broad to plough on and replied: “Why wouldn’t you want class like that?”
Strauss stressed the 16-man squad selected has not been imposed and so Root’s view has clearly changed; certainly his take on No 3 has, the impending move to a spot where he averages 38, after his annus mirabilis of six centuries at No 4, representing a second policy shift that feels counterintuitive.
That move is one that can be more easily reversed, at least, and Root will no doubt look to shift the focus away from the headline omissions and back on to those selected for a tour that is historically tough and three years ago witnessed a vastly more experienced England side turned over.
Alex Lees will be the latest opener hoping to jam the revolving door after his own reboot at Durham, while the silken talents of Ben Foakes behind the stumps will make a return to international stage. Matt Parkinson, a similar cause celebre among England supporters, is the second spin option alongside Jack Leach, even if Root’s management of this department remains maddening.
In another era Root would be back in the ranks by now but then in another era the wider response to Anderson and Broad would be different too. Certainly the past week in English cricket has not matched the frenzy witnessed around Justin Langer’s exit as Australia head coach, which in itself feels slightly instructive.
Coaches come and go. So, too, underperforming players, such as the six other Englishmen to walk the plank. But a pair of all-time greats, whose recent performances still place them in the top bracket of fit and available seamers? Supporters have made their feelings known – the majority seem shocked and fearful it’s all over – but it has not hit the levels of the Langer debate.
Perhaps this is in part down to Strauss leaving the door ajar (even if departing players, bar Kevin Pietersen, seldom see it double-bolted publicly anyway). The high regard in which Strauss is held – something built on the 308 wickets Anderson and Broad shared under his captaincy – may have played a role too.
But even factoring in these elements, the alarm bells that scarcely stop ringing at the ECB these days should have grown a bit louder by the fact that the country at large was not mouthing “WTF?”; that radio phone-ins were not beset with an avalanche of calls either berating or backing the decision.
This does not feel like a population left apathetic by a succession of lamentable mornings, where grim scorecards lay in wait like bloodied horses heads under the covers. It’s rather a national team that has lost centrality in the zeitgeist and two utterly stellar careers that have played out almost entirely behind a paywall.
During the Ashes summer in Australia it was hard not to be jealous; jealous that the exploits of their men’s and women’s teams are part of the national conversation through free-to-air coverage and jealous that their Test grounds are flooded with little champions playing cricket on the concourses, not solely the domain of grownups.
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, is reportedly working to renew the broadcasting contract before his expected departure. He won’t, because money talks, but if there is to be a true “red-ball reset” then the next deal should see at least one Test match per summer available on every television set in the country.