Wednesday, 20 February 2013

England Lacking Depth?

In 1998 a young England team travelled down under and experienced one of the worst maulings in modern sport. The tour became known as 'The Tour of Hell', and yet six members of the 32-man squad would return to Australia to win the Rugby World Cup just five years later. 

It was a young side, taken as a learning experience, but after losing the first match by a record 76-0 margin, they were basically doomed, and many of those players were never seen in an England shirt again. 

Seven matches on the tour, seven defeats. Why do I mention this? Well, there are at present another young England side down under experiencing an equally rough time. Five matches, five defeats and with just three more matches to play the class of 2013 could return with an even worse record than the pups Clive Woodward took to hell and back 15 years ago. 

However, should they return having cut the wheat from the chaff and leave the nation with future superstars then the exercise will be seen as worthwhile.but I have a worrying feeling that will not be the case. 

The tour has not received widespread attention yet, but a quick look at the results suggests that this has been the worst kind of one-sidedness. In the five matches England have lost by eight wickets twice, once by seven wickets, once by four in the only close game so far, and the most recent by 122 runs. All in 50 over matches. 

The worry then must be the bowling. Before Rikki Clarke took 4/55 in the most recent loss, nobody had taken more than two in an innings, and in fact nobody else has more than two for the entire tour. The best economy rate of the lot is 4.60. 

In the batting last summers diminutive Test debutant James Taylor has at least shown some form with one century and one fifty while opening bat Varun Chopra has two hundreds, but again, nobody else has impacted a great deal bar one good knock from Gary Balance. 

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of all this is that unlike the Tour of Hell in 1998, these guys are not up against especially strong opposition. England supporters have thoroughly enjoyed watching the crumbling of the great Australian dynasty, but we could be laughing on the other side of our faces soon. 

So far the Lions attack has been flayed by such luminaries as Ryan Carters (career average 18.94), this writers favourite target, Rob Quiney (twice), and the once promising Sean March (seven Tests at an average of 27) and taken apart by the bowling of Scott Boland (five first class matches to date) three times, and Fawad Ahmed, who at the age of 33 has played a grand total of 10 first class matches. 

Hopefully this is a blip, and many of these players, particularly guys like Taylor, Vince, Meaker, Hales, Kerrigan and Stokes will return as stronger characters. Right now however, they must be feeling something akin to what was felt by England touring teams throughout the 90s - in any sport.

Written by Alan Curr

*Since writing this piece a new story has emerged about two of the England Lions squad being sent home early from the tour
<> for unprofessional conduct. Ben Stokes and Matt Coles have now made sure that the spotlight will fall firmly onto this group at the time they need it least. They can also be sure that should they feature in senior England squads in the future (Stoke already has done) you can be sure that the sentence: "As a promising youngster he was kicked off an England Lions tour to Australia for being a drunken idiot" - or words to that effect - will feature in every piece for the rest of their career. 

They are young, and they have clearly made a mistake, but I have to wonder if sportsmen will ever learn? 

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