Ten reasons why England will be world No 1 – Simon Hughes

Excellent as usual from Hughes. Of course he omits the most important reason why this may happen – the lack of any great team in world cricket to stop them. I’ll include a few of the 10 reasons in the snippet below.

Simon Hughes: Ten reasons why England will be world No 1
By Simon Hughes
Daily Telegraph
05 Aug 2010

It is just over 18 months since Andy 1 and Andy 2 (that’s Strauss and Flower) took over at the England helm. At the time the team were an underperforming rabble with their third captain in five months and having jettisoned the coach of two years (Peter Moores).

From the low point of a shocking innings defeat by the West Indies in Jamaica, the leadership has turned everything round. Since early February 2009, England have regained the Ashes, held the powerful South Africans to a 1-1 draw in their own country and won the World Twenty20. Their Test record has been P20 W10 D8 L2.

Much of this has been achieved through attention to detail, orchestrated by Flower. He has drawn his influences from a number of sources, notably Moneyball, the book by Michael M Lewis that reinvented how baseball players were analysed. England spend more on research and have better facilities than any other country, and are reaping the rewards.

But there is a human element too, centred around a collection of specialist coaches as astute as any in the game. Their achievements disprove the old theory that coaches are vehicles that transport you to the game. Here then are 10 reasons why England are shaping up to be the best team in the world.

A bowling machine with a difference, developed by England’s former batting coach Dene Hill and David Parsons, the performance director at the England and Wales Cricket Board’s national academy cricket centre at Loughborough. It features a video wall on the front on which is projected the run-up and delivery stride of any bowler in world cricket. The machine adjusts to the speed, trajectory and style of the chosen bowler, so that as his arm comes over on the screen an appropriate delivery emerges. An idea borrowed from baseball, it gives the batsman real experience of facing a particular bowler.

Flower is a great believer in varying practice methods to keep challenging the players. At Loughborough last week instead of the usual nets session, he devised a circuit with six stations – pro-batter set to left-arm over, a bowling machine replicating Danish Kaneira’s leg-spin, a bowling machine operated by Graham Gooch moving the batsman backwards and forwards to vary the pace, and other skills relating to Test batting. Each player remained in his batting kit for a number of repetitions of the circuit to prepare them for the rhythm and duration of a day’s play. The Loughborough indoor facility was also deliberately heated up to 30C to check on players who might be prone to cramp in hot conditions.

Flower, who utterly maximised his ability as a batsman, used to practise by hitting a golf ball with a stump after remembering that Don Bradman had done so in his youth. He advocates occasionally practising with a specially-made thin bat (about the width of a stump), or a heavy bat (Paul Collingwood sometimes uses a 4lb version, almost twice the weight of his normal bat, in the nets) as well as practising catching and throwing and even bowling with specially weighted balls.

The new bowling coach, David Saker, who was a bustling outswing bowler from Victoria, has a different approach to previous incumbents. He is principally a strategist rather than a technician. He believes in better utilising what you have got rather than tinkering with biomechanics. He advocates thinking on your feet and outsmarting the batsman rather than worrying too much about arm and wrist positions. This is invaluable to a group of highly skilled but predominantly young bowlers to fast-track them to bowling maturity. His influence was particularly evident in James Anderson’s performance at Trent Bridge. He looked relaxed and rarely strained for the ‘magic’ delivery, pitching leg and hitting off. Instead he coasted to the wicket and settled for systematically working a batsman over. Saker has also largely abandoned using coloured cones for bowlers to aim at in practice, preferring life-size dummies so the bowler can aim, say, his bouncer accurately at the head.

The ECB research people have developed Trackman, a piece of kit which monitors a spinner’s revolutions on the ball. It has revealed that Graeme Swann spins the ball more than any other finger spinner in the game. Also, every county is now equipped with a Merlin bowling machine, which can replicate any spinner in world cricket.

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