Positivity. Positivity. Positivity. It’s the MO of Eoin Morgan’s team. When disaster strikes it’s essential to brush yourself off, pretend it’s an aberration, and get right back on that saddle.
As a strategy this isn’t the worst approach in the world. England would be daft to try something new with the World Cup just around the corner. Changing course at the last minute has undermined plenty of England World Cup campaigns in the past so it’s the last thing we should do now.
It’s just a bit frustrating that we still haven’t learned – have we even tried? – to develop as a team over the last year or so. Bayliss, Farbrace and the selectors did a very good job in revolutionising our ODI side but now we’ve got a bit stuck. It’s champagne cricket all the way or bust.
England play some brilliant cricket – we’re probably the most entertaining side in the world – but it would be nice if we we were a little more adaptable. It would also be nice, necessary even, if we showed a bit more consistency.
Yes this team could very well win us the World Cup. As hosts we’ll be able to tailor make surfaces that suit us. But we’re certainly not the finished article. We are not, for example, an all conquering machine like Steve Waugh’s Australians.
Lots of people seem to be saying that yesterday’s batting collapse was probably a good thing. “Thank heavens we’ve got it out of our system now rather than in the World Cup”. But I think this is misguided. After all, collapses like this happen quite regularly to this England side. We just forget about them rather easily.
Many seem to have forgotten that we collapsed in Barbados earlier in the series too. And if you look at our recent history it’s actually quite likely we’ll have the odd collapse in the World Cup too. We just have to hope it’s in the group stages rather than a knock-out game.
However, I think it’s suboptimal to think in terms of batting collapses alone. Instead we should simply look at wins and losses. And the uncomfortable fact it that this England ODI side loses far too much to be dead certs for a World Cup.
Of our last 20 completed ODIs – which seems a pretty good sample size as it spans exactly a year – England’s record is won 14 and lost 6. And five of those wins came against an Australia team is disarray after the Smith and Warner bans. We therefore basically lose every other game. That’s hardly champion form. This winter we’ve won 5 and lost 3.
Two key questions therefore emerge. A) Are England a good team? And B) Are we improving and building momentum ahead of the World Cup?
The answer to the first question is obvious. Yes we are a good team. We’re a bloody dangerous team. Even if we’re occasionally a danger to ourselves.
The answer to the second question, however, is a little trickier. And unfortunately recent results suggest that we are neither improving nor building as much momentum as we’d like.
World Cup winners peak at exactly the right time. My worry is that England might have peaked a year or so ago. Results certainly suggest this because we’re losing more games now than we were then. In the 20 ODIs completed in the year before last we won 17 and lost 3. That’s a much better win to loss ratio.
No doubt the headline writers will focus on England’s record score of 418 last week. And this will be used as evidence that we’re undoubtedly World Cup favourites.
But what about the other unwelcome records? Yesterday was England’s heaviest defeat in terms of balls remaining in history. That’s a shocking statistic. The game was over before the scheduled interval! It’s natural to feel a little negative after an experience like that. And can the players really shrug it off as much as they pretend they can? It must eat away at their confidence somewhat.
So what have we learned? Basically when England are good they’re amazingly good. But when we’re bad we’re unbelievable and unacceptably bad.
Does this sound like a world champion team to you? Probably not. Although it is possible.
The other day George Dobell interestingly compared Eoin Morgan’s side to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle football teams in the 1990s: “however many you score, we’ll simply score on more than you”.
I liked this comparison. It seemed apt. Newcastle were great to watch and they were everyone’s second favourite team for a while. But what did they actually win? They were understandably too inconsistent to win the league. But tellingly they didn’t win an FA Cup either.
England may indeed go on to win the World Cup. I bloody hope so because so much has been sacrificed to give us the best possible chance. But playing this way, and failing to improve over the last 12 months, has not given us the best possible chance.