That Jonathan Trott has scored more runs than anyone else in the World Cup (422) but less boundaries than the next 10 in the list is an interesting statistic. He has been England’s mainstay with the bat in the competition, allowing them to post respectable, but hardly challenging scores.
Therein lies the problem. England lack deceptive, mysterious bowlers, therefore defending moderate totals is very hard against good batting sides. Sitting in the ESPN studio with Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose voice is as booming and incessant as his bat was against spinners, it becomes fairly obvious where England went wrong.
Sidhu guffaws everytime an England batsman sweeps, ‘Oh look, another SWEEP!!’ he chants, ‘you’re a nation of sweepers!’ . He chastises the batsmen for not using their feet, either to get down the pitch, or get right back on the stumps.
Look at Trott’s wagonwheel from his quarter-final innings against Sri Lanka, and you will see many nudged singles on the legside, a few sweeps and the odd late cut, but nothing driven down the ground for four. Whereas a ball in Swann’s second over was launched back over his head for six by Upul Tharanga, who had danced up the pitch, and Dilshan did the same to the England spinners twice later on.
Highly irritating though it is to admit it, Sidhu is right. Using your feet is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to English batsmen. It is not easy to explain why. It is probably because of the fear of leaving your crease and the national obsession with sweeping.
Graham Gooch made sweeping famous with his demolition of India in the 1987 World Cup semi-final, and slow pitches in English club cricket encourage the sweep. It represents the default option for any batsman stuck down a slow but accurate spinner’s end. The danger of being stumped inhibits an English batsman’s intentions.
Generally Asian spinners bowl a bit flatter and the pitches tend to skid through low which makes the sweep a difficult shot to execute. A better alternative is to try to get to the pitch. Perhaps Indians and Sri Lankans are lighter on their feet than sturdy Englishmen.
Because it is such a common occurance for a batsman to dance up the wicket in the sub-continent, batsmen who miss and are stumped are perhaps less castigated.
There are two benefits to using your feet and driving over sweeping. One, you are usually using a straight bat rather than a crooked one, and two, a sweep shot is hard to bail out of once a batsman is committed to it, whereas a batsman using his feet doesn’t have to follow through with a big drive. He can still check his shot, look to work the ball into a gap, or just block.
Eoin Morgan is able to do this. He uses his feet adeptly, and can then work or chip the ball over mid wicket, guide it over extra cover or smite it straight. Interestingly he has spent time at the World Cricket Academy in Mumbai, specifically acquiring a greater range against spin.
So has Strauss, not that it seemed to do him much good when Dilshan took the new ball against him in the Premadasa Stadium. It would be worth many of the next generation of English batsmen, however, following suit.