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Why can't England be an impregnable force at home?
South Africa tour of England

Why can't England be an impregnable force at home?

Despite a good overall record in the past four seasons, England have not been able to establish themselves as an impregnable force at home.

England went 2-1 up on Monday with a thumping win over the Proteas at The Oval. The series pattern so far has seen a heavy victory one side followed by an equally dominant success for the other, with two large England wins falling either side of a massive 340-run victory for the Proteas at Trent Bridge.

This trend is not a one of thing rather it has been a part of England’s home season for the past few years. Since the start of 2013 season, England have won 18 out of 31 Tests.

" Except for the New Zealand’s tour of England and following home Ashes in 2013, England have had this whimsical drift where a comprehensive win followed an equally thumping loss. "

From the summer of 2014, England have lost 8 out of the 24 Tests they have played at home while three ended in a draw.

The summer of 2014 started with a 1-0 victory for Sri Lanka in two-match series.

England drew and then lost the first two games against India before making a comeback and winning the next three in the same year.

The trend continued in 2015 season when England’s 124-run victory against the Kiwis was followed by a 199-run thumping by New Zealand.

In 2015 Ashes, again England’s resounding 169-run win was reciprocated with a 406-run thumping by the Aussies. England made a comeback and won the next two matches by eight wickets and an innings and 78 runs – only to be followed by an Aussie victory by an innings and 46 runs.

England hosted Sri Lanka and Pakistan for 2016 summer. While England won the first two Test matches against Sri Lanka and drew the last, the spoils were shared with Pakistan – with England’s two wins sandwiched between Pakistan’s victories.

Despite a good overall record in the past four seasons, England have not been able to establish themselves as an impregnable force at home.

" A closer look at stats across these seasons shows the flaws, with batting, especially the middle order coming under scrutiny – given the abundant resources England enjoy in the bowling department. "

When Strauss decided to hang his boot in 2012, England boasted a middle-order of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. In the subsequent summers, all of the three English main-stays left the side – either retired or forced to quit – leaving gaps in the middle-order. Although the change was not as radical as seen in ODI team post-2015 ODI World Cup, yet England’s batting has faced the heat.

While Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott’s road ended in the 2013/14 Ashes Down Under – although Trott returned for a few games in 2015 as an opener, only to announce his retirement three games later – Ian Bell was dropped after a below-par performance in the 2015 Ashes and the subsequent tour of the UAE to play Pakistan.

In all this while, a few players including the likes of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes emerged through the ranks and established themselves at different spots. But at least two spots in the middle-order – as well as the Cook’s opening partners, 11 to be exact since Strauss left – have continued to be a problem for the Englishmen. More often than not, England has had to rely on Cook and Root to steady England’s ship in crisis.

A glance at the numbers for middle-order batsmen shows the stats dominated by Joe Root. While Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes have provided a vital balance by contributing with the ball, England has lacked consistent performances from the new comers in the middle-order. The likes of James Vince and Nick Compton have failed to deliver. The inconsistency in selection policy has further added to the dilemma.

Gary Balance, who has only crossed 50 mark twice in last 25 Test innings, was included in the squad against South Africa due to his extraordinary county form where he scored 815 runs at an average of 101 with three 100s and four half-centuries. But he failed to translate that form in the first two Tests of 2017 English summer, returning with 85 runs in 4 innings at 21.25.

All this culminates to one question: what is the selection policy? If it were the domestic form as justified with Ballance’s selection, then the likes of Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman were worthy candidates. And if it’s not, then Haseeb Hameed perhaps deserved another go – provided the current county form and the pedestrian show by Jennings in series overall.

The premature retirement of James Taylor dented England’s hopes of finding a mainstay in the middle-order. The one series experiments such as James Vince and Ben Duckett have not worked; neither the current form of any senior player such as Ian Bell – with 331 runs in 7 games at an average of 27.5 – will help either.

With the inconsistency of selection for two middle-order spots and the ever-changing partners of Alastair Cook, most of the wins for England have come from their established players. The incomers have not been contributing much to the cause – resulting in the inconsistent results.

While England may continue to be happy with the overall results, the selectors need to worry about the loose ends in the playing XI.

The writer tweets @khaledumair