England Still Using All The Muscles Except The Most Important One

I love the expression above. I first heard it in The Matrix Reloaded (I think). It’s when Neo proves himself very capable of beating up enemy agents but not quite so good at using his noggin. He doesn’t even notice that Trinity fancies him! In other words, he’s a little bit daft. Just like England’s approach in ODIs in fact.

England should have won at a canter yesterday at The Oval. They bowled very well for a change, including David Willey who was my man of the match, but they almost screwed up an incredibly simple chase by playing stupidly. It was ‘balls out’ batting without a hint of common sense.

Why is it that this particular England side always chooses brawn over brains? It’s like they’re a bunch of cocky kids permanently trying to prove their masculinity.

I don’t want to single out Moeen Ali because he bowled beautifully yesterday and largely set the platform for England’s win. However, holing out when we needed just 18 to win (when he was the last recognised batsman at the crease) was thoughtless and quite frankly negligent.

Jos Buttler also played a ridiculous innings. He was almost out hooking – we’ll see plenty of that in next year’s Ashes – and then completely deceived by a slower ball two minutes later. It was a pretty good nut but he wouldn’t have been deceived if he’d been playing each ball on its merits – which is all the match situation demanded. Instead Jos was irresponsibly going for glory.

I really don’t understand why England’s batsmen play like this. They’re going to come unstuck at the worst possible time (in a World Cup semi final for example) unless they learn to adapt to both different match situations and different pitches. Kevin Pietersen is universally loathed by the ECB, and vilified by many people still connected to this England team, so why do the current bunch of players do their best to imitate him all the time? I guess that’s just the way they play.

Moeen’s interview after the match was very much from the KP textbook. He claimed his psychology was “not to have any doubt” and insisted he’d stay “true to himself”. I’m afraid very few players have the talent (and the luxury) to play this way, Mo. If it got the likes of Pietersen into trouble sometimes, then I’m afraid you’ve got no chance mate.

It was really interesting to hear Stuart Broad on commentary too. I think it’s fair to say that Broad very much speaks for the England cricket team in general. He’s a senior pro, has been around for donkeys’ years, and he’s been captain or vice captain of various sides at different junctures too. When addressing this very subject Broad’s pearl of wisdom was basically this: “playing positively all the time is a great approach because you’ll generally win more games than you lose”.

At this point my jaw nearly fit the floor. Really, Stuart? Is this the most cerebral analysis you can come up with? It sounds like something a ten year old would say to justify his tactics in three-card brag. How can someone so experienced and ostensibly thoughtful support a strategy that’s so inflexible and simplistic?

Surely Broad and the England players realise they won’t secure the World Cup if they only win “most” of their games. To win major trophies you’ve got to be flawless. Winning two out of every three games (or whatever success ratio you want to insert here) might be good enough for an above average side but it’s hardly the mind-set of champions. If this is their philosophy then they’re setting the bar pretty low.

Now don’t get me wrong. England may very well win the World Cup next summer. I bloody hope they do. But if they do manage to triumph then it will be despite (not because of) their psychology.

The truth is that English cricket is intransigent from top to bottom. The board doesn’t listen to criticism and neither do the players. Rather than learning from mistakes, all our teams get touchy and even more determined to prove that their current approach is the right one – even when it’s blatantly the wrong one.

I don’t know about you but this approach simply has to change. It’s complacent, pretty arrogant, and really rather stupid too.

James Morgan  


  • I don’t think the pitch was easy to bat on, 400 in both innings is low for an ODI. Engands early batsman should not have gone hell for leather to chase a very modest total at 4/over. I think this side is far from the finished article, even with home advantage and a second string Aussie side. Fancy India as World Cup winners at this stage.

      • Wouldn’t want to kick a country when they’re down……………..hang on, it’s Australia and sport

        Content with stuffing them last year home and away at rugby with all our players deemed not good enough for the Welsh Irish and English Lions..

      • Not when you see what happened against Pakistan.
        Scotland, Wales and Ireland all play with that extra incentive against us. We are the team to beat and get bragging rights over.
        Indeed we seem to be the scalp everyone wants in team sports, as we invented most of them. It is our lot as Englishmen to have this cross to bear continually. Everyone seems to try that little bit harder against us, almost as though we are an oppressor needing to be put in their place.

  • James , I was thinking the same thing about Mo’s KP-type approach. Put bluntly, it’s bollox. Just because I like Mo more than I ever did KP does make that attitude any more acceptable. And it’s catching – witness Buttler’s brain fade.
    If I drove my car through city centres at 70 mph I would not get away with saying I was bing ‘true to myself’ when the cops caught me.
    Arses need to be kicked.

  • Serious question, James – any thoughts on what this Article 13 might mean for the blog? I thought it would just mean that nobody could post any links but some are saying it’s potentially much more damaging than that for independent bloggers.

    • I don’t really know enough about it at this stage. I’m sure it will be ok to discuss things without linking to specific sites.

      I’m also pretty sure that established news sites like it when bloggers link to them. The whole concept of search engine optimisation and inbound marketing is based on people linking to your material. It all sounds a bit upside down to me!

      • One thing I’ve heard is that as the law’s currently drafted, nobody can opt out of this “link tax”. In other words, a news’ site can’t say, “we’re happy for people to link to us and not pay, we’d rather have the publicity than the payment for copyright”. They have to be paid whether they want it or not! Another issue is the implications for wordpress (and other similar platforms). They could fear they will incur liabilities. I’ve also heard talk of expense compulsory algorithims and even licenses.

        This could be fear-mongering and exaggeration. I’ve heard claims from “the law’s so vague it could amount to nothing – it’ll all be in the interpretation” to ” this is the death of independent content creation on the web”.

        All I’m saying is it’s something to look into before it’s too late. Not that there’s much that can be done about it because it’s an EU regulation so lobbying your MP is useless. MEPs may get a vote on it later.

  • In fairness to Moeen Ali, didn’t he make a similar comment last year after a match where he’d got a high score? A reporter was praising his sixes, and in response he pointed out that playing like that he could easily have chipped it up and been out for a very low score.

    So he’s aware that this style of play has risks as well as rewards, and he tries to deflect credit for success as well as criticism for failure. That’s an impressive kind of humility, and rare to see in sportspeople.

  • It stems from a mindless mantra about fearlessness. This was shoved down players’ throats and is from the top down. I think the England team role model was Brendon McCullum not KP – to be fair to KP he played that way in T20. But he had a much more sophisticated approach to batting otherwise. The approach ties in with the ECB demand that England play entertaining cricket even if they lose. Morgan always reiterates this. I was surprised to hear Broad advocating this on the basis we will win more matches than we lose. A kind of stats thing rather than play each game on its own merits thing. The no brains directive is afflicting the Test matches as well, hence they go hard at the ball. Teams thus trained need flat matches to perform well. On the other hand the opposition might perform well on flat pitches. After a while it does leave batsmen exposed to decent bowling. Hence Roy and Hales are looking more vulnerable than they used to. Even a good a batsman as Root has got into some bad habits. Bayliss is a lazy coach with an one-eyed approach. He isn’t going to change. Luck plays a bigger role in risky batting. It’s a gamble. Is that macho?

  • I never really understood the whole ‘that’s how I play’ justification. They’re professionals, they’re supposed to be playing according to the match situation, and not be a one trick pony. This approach will cost England the WC, just like it cost them the champions trophy.

  • Only saw some of the highlights show on C5. England needed a mere 3 an over after the platform Root and Morgan gave them. Australia bowled quite well late on and I believe landed a lot of dot balls, but so what? The target was so low that they shouldn’t really have been able to exert a lot of pressure on thinking cricketers. Working it around safely for singles and twos and punishing any genuinely bad balls was all that was needed. But no, England’s finest all came out swinging for the ropes like utter cockwombles and tried to make a statement (that they seem to feel they have to do that every single time regardless of the situation is, I think, part of the problem) and paid the price. There’s no way they should’ve gone seven down and had to rely on Plunkett and Willey to see them home. On this showing, a full strength Aussie team would’ve eaten them for dinner.

  • Surely a lot of this comes down to Bayliss whose basic philosophy has bred this misguided positivism verging on arrogance that you describe. He has bred this attitude that we can chase down any total and win. The Scotland game (to which although well done Scotland I attach zero significance) shows that this is not the case and must surely give even Bayliss pause for thought ahead of the World Cup.

  • It is astonishing how cricket has evolved. In my early days of the 1970s we still had the likes of Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott, wonderful bats but it is obvious to all that the physical side of cricket has been transformed from that time of cricketers who sometimes rivalled darts players for physical prowess. So why, at the same time, has cricket regressed in terms of players taking responsibility for their shortcomings and sorting them out? I remember Dennis Amiss having problems against Lillee and Roberts (who wouldn’t), and instead of uttering banalities and cliches he went away, made fundamental changes to his technique and came back stronger. Today players just parrot the party line and continue to make the same mistakes. And that is why we have no hope in test cricket. You can get away with stupidity in T20 (even the most stupid team is hard pushed to make 10 mistakes in a 20 over innings) and even in a 50 over game. Test cricket requires intelligence and opponents will find weakness and work on it, meaning faults must be recognised and addressed. No chance with this mob.

    • I saw Amiss’s 203 as an eleven year old and remember it fondly – but it can be over-romanticised.

      West Indies saw an unconventional technique and got their tactics all wrong. Holding says they became obsessed with trying to bowl him around his legs and gave him lots of balls he could flick off his legs.They reverted to conventional tactics in the second innings and got him cheaply. After a successful tour of India (nobody ever questioned Amiss against spin), he came up against Australia. Amiss made 111 runs in 6 innings and was dropped (for the returning Boycott). He never found a way to overcome Lillee and Thomson.

      • In all fairness who did, apart from a certain David Steele. I seem to remember him always coming in when we were 23 for 3 and making 50’s and 100’s, hooking off his nose with only those accountant specs and thick greying hair as protection.. However he did keep himself in meat from his butcher sponsor. (I think it was a steak for every run) and he’d done the same against the Windies pacemen.
        Amiss was my role model as a boy, but he never fancied pace, becoming the first user of the prototype for today’s helmets. Thompson is the quickest bowler I’ve ever seen. I remember going to watch him bowl from sideways on, not behind the bowlers arm and I couldn’t pick the ball up atall. How Marsh managed I don’t know. Lillee I could see all the way down and he was pretty quick then.
        I remember Amiss’ 203, an innings of true grit, but you felt he could have been out at any time as he constantly flicked balls in the air between the cordon of leg side catchers.

      • The point I was making was that he had the intelligence to know a change was needed and the application to make it. More recently Mark Butcher also remodelled his technique. I just cannot see any current (or prospective) England bat with the intelligence (or strength of character to stand up to the coaches) and make similar fundamental changes.

        • Gooch did the same and, to be fair, there is some indication that Jennings is at least trying to. By the way I did like James’s comment that Jennings has decided that it is easier to move counties than it is to move his feet!

  • Just noting that Australia has lost preliminary games in at least 2 of the World Cups it’s won – so you don’t have to win every game to win a World Cup. Whether a bust through or bust approach wins you a final – maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It really put NZ on the back foot when McCullum was out in the first over in the last one.

    • Pakistan lost three games under this format in 1991/92 and won the trophy. NZ lost only two games and didn’t make the final.

      There’s going to be a high premium on peaking at the right moment.

  • This present England set up work on the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ model, which is fine if you just want to stand still, but we need to develop more consistency and need a variety of game plans for that. At present if we click we’re very good if we don’t, we’ll that’s life. You can’t learn lessons and improve playing that way. It’s all very frustrating, as they seem to be the only people who don’t get this. Their excuses remain as hollow as ever. They don’t seem prepared to listen to criticism, employing the James Anderson technique of dismissing it all as ‘you’re all bunch of amateurs and I’ve been playing a long time so I know what I’m doing.’
    Random successes will not win the World Cup. We need to find a formula to string results together and improve as the tournament goes on. No team can all hit form at the same time, so we have to create alternative strategies to cover for individual failures.


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