Bridgetown: Sitting by the pool at the team hotel on Monday, Graham Thorpe might have felt as though he had been shoved in at the deep end; the batting coach called to account for England’s abject performance in their Twenty20 defeat by West Indies the previous day.
Thorpe was frank in his assessment of England’s prospects in Bangladesh, where they must finish in the top two to qualify for the semi-finals from a group that includes South Africa and Sri Lanka. “We have a puncher’s chance if we get things right,” Thorpe said.
“If we can get through that group, we’ve done very, very well. Then we might have a puncher's chance again in the knockout stages.”
The image of a fading boxer swinging blindly at a more powerful opponent seemed apt in the context of England’s performance against spin on Sunday. On a bone-hard pitch, the batsmen had swung in vain time and again, becoming enmeshed in a cat’s cradle weaved by West Indies’ trio of slow bowlers. The first three wickets fell to Samuel Badree’s skiddy leg spin, two more to the off spin of Marlon Samuels.
On that occasion, Sunil Narine took only one wicket with his mystery spin. Narine is generally referred to as an off spinner, but the term barely skims the surface of his talents.
“We mustn’t panic and we want the guys to be positive,” Thorpe said. “If they are going to make a fist of it in Bangladesh, they’re going to have to be bold.”
It is scarcely a new problem for English batsmen to suffer against spin bowling overseas. Thorpe was a fine player of spin, but said Monday that he did not learn the art until he was 27.
Although the ECB now spends huge amounts of money sending the best youngsters to the sub-continent, Thorpe conceded that, until the standards of spin bowling in England improve, the problem is likely to remain.
“We don’t have heaps of it in county cricket,” Thorpe said. “I’d say we’ve improved over the years, but it is always going to be an issue.”