Commentary duo Nasser Hussain and Rob Key believe England’s collapse in the second test against India was not due to the Hundred – but the long-term neglect of red ball cricket.
They spoke about cricket’s controversial new format, with Key focusing on the positives of the Hundred.
“The cricket itself has been electric, and the thing that has surprised me most is how quickly people have got behind their team,” Key told Mail Online.
“I played at the Oval time and again in front of packed crowds and it was always mixed support for Surrey and Kent. But at the very first Hundred game, the Manchester Originals came down and the crowd was so partisan towards Oval Invincibles. That has happened everywhere.”
While Hussain agreed with the impressive atmosphere and added further positives of the women’s game and the appeal to a younger audience, he admitted the Hundred is perhaps inadvertently damaging test cricket.
“The atmosphere has been brilliant and it does have a different feel about it,” said Hussain. “If you walk around the grounds, especially in the afternoon, you see lots of families there and I do think you are seeing a new young audience being attracted to cricket.
“The figures for the women's matches have been phenomenal and they are the biggest winners from the tournament but there is collateral damage to Test cricket from having so much white-ball cricket at this time of year.
“The schedule is ridiculous.”
When quizzed about the ‘collateral damage’, the pair both pinned the blame on the schedule rather than the Hundred itself while also questioning the recent development of batsmen in this country.
“I agree about schedule up to a point but England’s problems in Test cricket have not come about because of the Hundred,” Key said. “The techniques of England players have evolved through the environment they have played in for seven or eight years.
“We are seeing the results of years of neglect for red-ball cricket.”
Hussain agreed with Key, and added: “This batting demise has been a long time coming.
“If you started with a blank piece of paper now you wouldn't have this schedule but the problem is that every format wants to play in this chunk of summer. Joe Root has had his hands tied behind his back for over a year. That includes Covid bubbles, rest and rotation, injuries.
“The most amazing thing is that when Rishabh Pant walked off at Lord's on Monday morning, England were actually in a position to win the second Test.
“Joe, Chris Silverwood and Ashley Giles need to sit down and come up with a plan for red-ball batting.”
Key and Hussain then offered some solutions to the scheduling problem, including playing on better pitches to improve batting technique as well as playing high-quality Championship games at a different time of year to improve competition and preparation
Key insisted the best players must face the best teams rather than the conference system that took place this year, but called the county scheduling job ‘the world’s most fiendish sudoku’.
Hussain cited England captain Joe Root’s comment on pitches at the end of the series defeat in India last winter.
“[Root] didn’t blame the Indian pitches for England’s defeat. He blamed the English ones,” Hussain recalled. “We haven’t even mentioned our lack of spinners. Once county pitches turn, like at Taunton, we dock points.”
With both former cricketers lamenting the issues on both sides of the ball, Key emphasised the seemingly poor selection choices.
“Zak [Crawley] has a slight issue just outside off-stump and he’s now working bloody hard to try to sort that out. I babe no doubt he will come again,” Key insisted.
“I was never picking Dom Sibley for this series. I don’t think you can defend your way to victory against India. You have to put them under pressure.
“Don't give Sibley an extra game if you've decided he's not up to it. Pick the players who are going to take you forward.”
Hussain agreed, adding: “It will be difficult with so many bowlers out injured, and the way England are batting – but they were in a position to win the second Test on the final morning so that game wasn't all bad.
“They had a mad hour but that's the brilliance of Test cricket. The game can change so often throughout five days. It could be different at Headingley, but these are two vulnerable batting line-ups.”
Despite the issues of the national test team, former England captain Hussain believes Joe Root is the man to lead the side forward in the remainder of the series.
“I’m proud of our captain,” he said. “Joe is a credit in the way he handles himself and with all the runs he's scoring.
“I just hope everything that has happened will not weigh him down because he's a fabulous cricketer and a great bloke. I'm looking forward to seeing him score more runs on his home ground at Headingley next week.”
Looking past the conclusion of the series, Key revealed he is excited to see how the T20 Blast will respond to the roaring success of the Hundred.
“This is the Blast's chance to stand up for itself and that will be fascinating to see. I'm expecting big crowds and a different atmosphere. I'm going to Taunton which has been the heartbeat of the Blast and does it so well.
“One thing I'm going to enjoy — calling it an over. And not asking if a bowler is going to carry on after five balls.”
The third test between England and India takes place at Headingley from August 25.
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