England’s winter, I mean, England’s autumn, winter and spring, finally came to an end yesterday when we got stuffed by a team that actually knows how to play ODI cricket on the subcontinent. There’s no point dwelling on the result – I think most of us realised we were going to lose – it’s just a shame our weary troops had to endure the ignominy of a ten wicket thrashing. Maybe it would have been better to go out in the group stages after all?
The truth of the matter is that we haven’t played good cricket since the Sydney Test at the beginning of January. And, let’s face it, we were probably never going to do well in the subcontinent anyway – especially with all the injuries we suffered.
Let’s look at the cold hard facts. England do not play spin well. It has been that way for decades. Scoring runs against dust bowl maestros like Murali was always going to be a tall order. Meanwhile, we neither possess depth in the spin bowling department, nor express pace with the new ball. Taking wickets was always likely to be tough against Sri Lanka … although even the most pessimistic fans might have expected us to take at least one.
However, blaming our lacklustre performances on a lack of talent is only half the story. The last three months witnessed a master class of organisational and managerial incompetence by the ECB and England’s management – ineptitude, and, quite frankly, stupidity, that clearly hamstrung the team.
Strauss and the boys were let down big time by the ridiculous winter schedule. Someone should lose their job over the fiasco – although we won’t hold our breath. It’s no surprise that senior players like Strauss and KP are considering retirement from ODIs. Maybe the money men will pause for thought when gate revenue from 50-over cricket drops because leading players are opting out.
Poor planning by the selectors and Andy Flower also played its part. Whilst our test team can be seen as pioneers in terms of preparation and, perhaps, performance, our ODI strategies remain rooted firmly in the dark ages.
It beggars belief that Ian Bell was asked to open the batting for the first time in a crucial game like a World Cup quarter final. The opening combination is the heartbeat of any ODI team, especially on the subcontinent, and the number of partners that Andrew Strauss has had at the top of the order highlights the management’s scrambled thinking.
Why Matt Prior was recalled is anyone’s guess. There were plenty of other options in county cricket. Steve Davies, Craig Kieswetter, Adam Lyth, or even Rob Key would have been better options; as would anyone that averages more than twenty six (Prior’s average for Sussex) in domestic cricket.
I also believe that Monty Panesar should have been in the squad. India have proved that you can carry the odd donkey in the field if he’s good at his primary job – bowling. Somehow I doubt that Dilshan and Tharanga would have had such an easy time if Monty was playing (although I’m not suggesting he would have won the game on his own).
It seems crazy that England’s selectors still prefer bits and pieces cricketers like Yardy and Tredwell to players with a proven international pedigree. Yes, Monty used to push the ball through when he was under pressure as a youngster, but the likes of Yardy dart the ball at leg-stump from ball one. I know who our opponents would rather face.
ODI teams can be lifted by the presence of one or two one-day specialists, but England seem to have a squad littered with them. Has Jonathan Trott’s success not proven that your best players are your best players, irrespective of format, and that class cricketers can adapt to different scenarios? A year ago Trott was considered to be a specialist test batsman. As it stands, he is the leading run scorer in the World Cup.
Going forward, there are huge question marks over the ODI team. It is by no means certain that Strauss will return – even though there are few alternatives. Meanwhile, seniors players like Jimmy Anderson have lost their way a bit. What XI England will field in their next ODI is anyone’s guess. There could be a whole host of retirements.
Perhaps it’s time for Miller and Co to dust off that one-arm bandit they used to use for selecting England teams … if they ever put it away. England’s strategies have certainly seemed rather random over the last few weeks.