After the Second Test at Lord’s, I stupidly asked if England could continue to do well in the Ashes Series. The rain-soaked draw at Edgbaston had looked like a good game for the home side, apart from letting the Aussies take control of the bat on the last day.
But the Fourth Test at Headingly was a disaster. None of the top six batsmen could beat 37 runs in an innings, with Prior and Cook was the only consistent men at the crease (and then they only averaged 30 runs an innings). It was bad enough to see England all out for 102 by tea on the first day, but then to see them let Australia get to 445 on essentially the same wicket was galling. All the momentum of the previous two games had gone, and the visitors had the game firmly under control.
There seems to be a campaign to bring Mark Ramprakash in for the last test, and to champion some of the younger players for a slot, but I think both would be a mistake. The team itself has to pull together, and bringing in new players to the squad could be risky. I’m also disappointed at the suggestion that the absence of Flintoff is a major factor. It should not be that important in a team game. He has been patchy with both bat and ball so far in the series, and clearly his injury problems have been affecting him. He’s been declared fit for the last test at the Oval, and hopefully he will return in strength. But England has a problem – if they can’t cope without Flintoff, what will they do after this Series when he retires from Test cricket?
The problem with reliance on a key player is that if they are off their game or can’t play, the rest of the team is rudderless. I was concerned last season when Fulham seemed to be over reliant on Jimmy Bullard. The game I saw before he left was away at West Bromwich Albion, and he did not do well. Fulham lost 1-0. When he was sold to Hull City, it seems to have actually improved the way that the rest of the team played, and also allowed other midfielders like Clint Dempsey and Dickson Etuhu to develop.
Yes, if you have a good player, you do need to use them where you can, and to try and capitalise on their abilities. But it’s dangerous to rely on them too much, because they won’t be there forever, and even when they are, they may even end up being counter-productive.