Over-analysis squeezing creativity out of the team
England's dire performance in the first Test in Hamilton confirmed that Michael Vaughan and his cosily centrally-contracted cricketers have lost the ability to think for themselves.
They are stuffed to the eyeballs with analysis and detail from their 10-man back-up team and all their natural reaction to the unexpected has every last pip squeezed out.
A famous pre-war football story concerns Arsenal and their blackboard manager Herbert Chapman after he signed the Scottish genius Alex Jackson, a winger who lived and played with immense flair.
The Highbury side of the mid-1930s included great names such as Alex James, Ted Drake, Cliff Bastin et al and, before Jackson's debut match, Chapman's tactical talk centred on a Subbuteo-type board on a table with toy models in their pre-kick-off positions.
Chapman began, "if we kick off, you Ted give it to Alex (James), pass it to Wilf (Copping) and you Cliff run hard down the left."
Each proposed move was accompanied by the shifting of the toy players when new boy Jackson suddenly put his foot under the table and kicked the lot over.
An indignant Chapman shouted "what on earth was that for?"
Jackson shrugged and replied "the opposition just made their first tackle."
Everybody cannot be a Wayne Rooney, Ted Dexter, Ian Botham, John McEnroe, Severiano Ballesteros or Barry John but that is no excuse for squeezing the last drop of inventiveness from less natural players.
That is the problem facing the new England administrative hierarchy, England and Wales Cricket Board chairman and No 2, Giles Clarke and Dennis Amiss respectively, director of cricket Hugh Morris and national selector Geoff Miller.
Clarke and Amiss were at Hamilton and know the serious nature of the problem. Bodies can be put right but minds are more difficult.
Miller has more than his fair share of nous and the sooner he bangs a few heads together the better. Stephen Fleming was spot on when he said after the fourth day - when Ryan Sidebottom's unlikely hat-trick (two out to unselfish attacking strokes) brought England back in the game after three and a half days of pathetic batting and bowling - "England will be happy with their afternoon's work but they didn't deserve it.
"We're the only team that has been positive enough to create a chance of a finish. We were surprised at how slowly England batted - it was incredible they showed no real intent. We bowled well but to score at two an over for that long showed a lack of will even to try to dominate."
The shambolic second innings in which they were dismissed in 54 overs included an unbeaten 54 by Ian Bell but even he was sucked into the defensive cul-de-sac that produced only one other score in double figures. Only when last man Monty Panesar joined Bell in the biggest partnership of the innings did Bell unfurl some aggressive strokes that make him one of the team's best batsmen.
It was rather like a top golfer logging a brilliant last-round 65 when all the pressure was off - a good innings but a total irrelevance. All of the England top six average over 40 in Test cricket but are miles away from being a unit, with even Kevin Pietersen being dragged down from his ego-driven heights. His strike rate of runs scored per 100 balls received has declined from 73 in 2005 to 68 in 2006 and to below 55 in 2007-08.
They live in a world of force-fed analysis, endless team talks and futile on-field huddles before the start of each session. Imagine Brian Close's arms circling the waists of Fred Trueman and Raymond Illingworth!
New Zealand scored their first-innings 470 from 139 overs but England could scratch only 287 from the same number of overs. So what do England do for the second Test match in Wellington, starting at 9.30pm UK time on Wednesday?
Expect few changes, because the make-up of the squad will not allow it, but England nearly always chop a bowler when the batting needs an overhaul. Assuming that Steve Harmison has played his last Test match, Vaughan can bring in either second spinner Graeme Swann as a fifth bowler in place of a batsman with Tim Ambrose moving up to No 6 or, more unlikely, play Swann instead of Harmison as one of four.
Consider this comparison of Harmison with the all-time gentle giant, heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, affectionately known as "the Ambling Alp."
He could punch and fight but was the antithesis of Mike Tyson and other moderns who love to play Mr Nasty to a grateful media. He loved family and friends, with boxing being treated as a means to pay for his way in life.
Similarly, Harmison is incapable of an on-field snarl and made it clear to former captain Nasser Hussain that cricket is a part of his life but not an obsession at the expense of home and family comforts. Several former cricketers are leading media attacks on the Durham man, and are almost contemptuous of his approach to life, but every man to his own.
His last two years have been riddled with injury and poor form, and Vaughan should have known better than to select him as one of a four-man attack in Hamilton. The final rude awakening came in the second innings when he came on as fourth bowler after Paul Collingwood, even though England wanted wickets, but Vaughan had had enough after four overs for 24 out of 48 overs bowled.
His deterioration is so marked that he claims he was unaware that his pace had dropped so alarmingly from 88mph to either side of 80, with Sidebottom averaging 5mph more in the match. Harmison's success came in spite of and not because of his wonky action, and he knows so little of the mechanics involved that he was unaware that several mph had gone missing.
Morris, Clarke and Amiss should look closely at the bowling coaching input of Ottis Gibson. James Anderson has the same faults of poor head action after at least four years of tutelage. Even Allan Donald's brief involvement was not wholly successful. In the end, the cricketer can take advice but only he can remedy a basic fault.
Clarke, Amiss and Morris must address the inadequate pre-series preparation, with the recent tours of Australia, Sri Lanka and now New Zealand disadvantaging everyone. Never mind what the players want - they must be told what they need.
Wellington will be instructive. Can the top six batsmen play with more than Plan A in their approach? Can Pietersen regain his flair? Can the management strike a better balance between continuity of selection and the charge that the dressing-room is too clubby and more difficult to break into than ever?
And, the biggest query of them all, without Andrew Flintoff, dare they pick a five-man attack? At least that could make the specialist batsmen more aware of their responsibilities to the team than themselves.