England’s future in Afghan hands


Your reactions, please, to England’s latest larruping, this time by nine wickets, at the hands of Sri Lanka. Or to be more specific, at the hands of Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne.

England’s reaction to setting a target of 310 was telling. To my eye, the smiles among the squad, as Buttler and Woakes walked off, suggested a kind of job-done satisfaction. 309-6 was a very respectable total, but not a match-winning one. England still seem to think they’re living in the early 2000s, when a 300-plus ODI score was an impregnable rarity. The world has moved on, and left them behind.

England should have set themselves 340 – as Australia, New Zealand or South Africa would have done – and been dissatisfied only to make 309. It bespeaks their collective lack of ambition that, to them, 309 was ample. True, they made 148 off the last 15 overs, but the batsmen went to sleep, perhaps fatally, in the middle of the innings.

In fairness, 340 may still not have been enough, given the limpness of England’s bowling, and on this front Peter Moores has some very serious questions to answer. As the same-y combination of Anderson, Broad, Woakes, and Finn had proved inadequate against both Australia and New Zealand, why was it likely to be effective now? Why on earth was James Tredwell left out, again? Wouldn’t Ravi Bopara’s bowling have proven useful? And to return to the batting, hands up anyone who thinks playing Gary Ballance at three remains the wisest option?

The sobering thought is that when, in years to come, we look up this World Cup in the record books, it will probably say that England were knocked out in the quarter finals, which doesn’t sound too bad, on paper at least.

As has been discussed ad infinitum for months, only the most sclerotic mindset could judge that a team should be able to qualify for the knockout stage having lost – very heavily – in all three group-stage matches against test opposition, as England have done.

I can now write a sentence new to English cricket’s lexicon: England must beat Afghanistan to progress. And that might not be entirely straight-forward, given how well the Afghans bowled against Scotland last week. To those who say ‘it was only Scotland’, I’d add the rejoinder that many of the deliveries they sent down would have troubled accomplished test batsmen.

The Afghanistan-Scotland fixture was one of the closest and most exciting in World Cup memory, and yet in all likelihood neither side will qualify for the 2019 tournament. The ICC’s logic for the format change, as we’ve talked about here before, is to reduce the number of ‘uncompetitive’ matches. Meanwhile, England – whose qualification is effectively automatic – have during the last fortnight been humiliated in three of the least competitive ODIs in history. England, as plutocrats, are – of course – one of the sacred Big Three.

Can anyone explain to me how this arrangement differs, in any meaningful way, from corruption?


  • Yes — corruption is exactly the right word. And boy does Team ECB Waitrose need it.

    • I had that interview – on Five Live’s Sportsweek. Graves didn’t quite say that – it was a neat deflection but said rather that it was a decision for the selectors. Which indeed it is. But what Graves didn’t do was rule it out.

      I thought Graves came across as a reasonably pleasant sort, but he spoke in jargon to a disappointingly surprising degree.

      • didnt listen to it but reading it atleast he was not slamming the door on KP for a first compared to others, but like s207 has said could be a smart way to distract !

      • The self serving and self-interested Tesco middle managers who infest the ECB are in the process of setting up alibi`s for the forthcoming home Ashes loss -they gave Pietersen the opportunity and if he doesn’t take it then they have to pick the fundamentally flawed batsmen Ali, Ballance, Root and Buttler because they therefore have no choice in the matter.
        Therefore the Team`s batting was bound to be lamentable and they couldn’t do anything about it.

    • Forgive me if I am seeing ghosts. It seems to me that this is a deliberate attempt to get the press talking about something other that England’s and ECB’s pathetic performance and management. Unfortunately it will never happen.

  • Beyond the threat of the Afghan bowlers, if there is rain, if England get only 1 pt from an abandoned match… think on that…

    • I’m actually hoping for that.
      I can’t bring myself to wish that they lose, but I’d be quite happy to see them put out of their misery like that, as it would put serious pressure on the current management to go.

  • But a knockout from AFG would certainly help get things moving more rapidly, last thing you want is another victory like against IND that will stall things for another season

  • FWIW, I think England will make the QFs fairly easily from this point. England’s bowling is second rate judging by other Test sides in this competition, but it’s good enough to win games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. We’ll bowl each side out for less than a laptop score and make it over the finishing line each time…

    Of course, it’s hard to see us doing anything other than folding in the QF – but doubtless that will be enough to keep Moores in the job for the summer.

  • Graves is – always has been – a shrewd operator.

    He may have got his job by creating another job for Giles Clarke, but here he is straight into the job and instantly putting Downton, Moores and Whitaker on notice.

    And getting the message over to KP that he better get serious about preparing to play for England is he as keen as he likes to suggest..

    Consider, Graves hasn’t pushed himself forward to preside over screwed up administrators, crap management and a lousy bunch of players who are always losing.

    • I think it’s more deflection. By saying it’s the selectors’ decision it means he doesn’t have to give an answer. Also, the caveat that KP would have to be playing first class cricket is said in the knowledge that it’s extremely unlikely any county has either the budget or the set-up to accommodate him.

  • Graves said the decision about KP lies with the selectors. The selectors have categorically said he will never play. I don’t see any cause for optimism there really. Unless the selectors perform a massive u-turn or we get new selectors (they’ve just been appointed, not going to happen) at the very least Downton and Whittaker would have to go given what they have already said.
    Anyway, to the cricket. I am standing by my pre tournament prediction that we won’t make it out of the group. One of Afghanistan or Bangladesh will beat us. Strangely the optimist in me hopes that we don’t make it out of the group. That kind of performance would be the catalyst for sweeping changes, the kind of changes that might actually make us better in the long run. If we squeak through to the knockout and then maybe make it through to the semis we will be told that English cricket is in good health and we shouldn’t change it. Personally, I think that any real fan of English cricket should be praying we get rolled over in the next two matches. It’s the only way we will stand a chance of fixing our overwhelming problems.

  • this is the cricket team whose country we have been bombing to bits for the last ten years – yes??

  • I get the distinct impression that players are picked based on talent and nous, but as soon as they’re in the England team, the coach (or someone higher up?) hands them a pre-fabricated game plan and tells them to reconstruct it on the field, to the letter, no deviation allowed, on pain of being dropped for insubordination.

    From that moment onward, all opinions other than those of the coach (or the ECB bigwigs?) are disregarded or suppressed – even those of the captain, under threat of dropping or permanent sacking.

    It would explain the paralysis and fear England show on the field. They don’t want to lose the game, but they don’t want to lose their jobs by deviating from the ECB’s failed formulas either.

    • It seems a bit too bizarre to be true but that is also the impression that I get. I find the overall performance bewildering. It makes little sense in any aspect. Not that the team selection is any more understandable.

      • Hales
        Moeen (ob)
        Root (ob)
        Buttler (W)
        Morgan (C)
        Bopara (rm)
        Rashid/Borthwick/Patel (lb/sla)
        Willey (lfm)
        Woakes (rfm)
        Tredwell (ob)

        That’s what I say to it all…

  • As far as setting a target over 300 is concerned, England hold the record for failing to defend such a total (lost nine ODIs defending more than 300).

  • I take heart in what Graves has said, not just the KP bit, but it does surely shoot a cannon over the ECB’s bow. Yes of course it is up to the selectors, but surely not the current useless selectors? How can they keep their job after the mess they have made of our team over the past year. Downton must be on notice now? What will be the reaction from the cricket media “insiders?” I see Selvey’s piece today is pretty drab and no comments allowed! No surprise there after the rollicking he got for his last piece of nonsense. There does seem to be a wind of change here. Vic Marks and Agnew agreeing on the international scene. Although of course they blamed the Aussie for the mess. Well they would wouldn’t they? Who knows. I do think Graves will shake things up. Whether he has the proverbials to go the whole way we will have to wait and see.

    I’d be surprised if England recover enough to beat any team. They look dead in the water.

    • Heard the telephone interview with KP. He reiterated that he had always loved to play for England and would love to play for them again but was pretty cagey otherwise. Quite funny as he had to ask them to hang on a minute because of noise at this end and then said Sorry Children running around.. When discussed afterwards and the point was mooted that surely Graves could not go against Whitaker, Downton et al Mark Butchers response was to say that they might not be in their jobs much longer………………

    • I think the team coaching has questions to answer Annie, but in terms of the ‘useless’ selectors, tell me who can be picked that’s not in the World Cup squad.

      You could make an argument for Stokes, and I wish they’d taken a punt on him, but he was absolutely woeful in Sri Lanka, both with bat and ball, so you can understand why they left him out. Apart from that, I can’t think of anybody playing in county cricket that has stuck their hand up to be included, particularly as a bowler.

      The one player I would also have stuck with was Tim Bresnan, and I don’t see why he was jettisoned so completely. They obviously thought Jordan was the coming man, but his bowling is still too inconsistent.

      The unpalatable truth is that the players, specifically the bowlers, are the best there are in English cricket.

      • The squad is probably the best that we can do, apart from the Stokes conundrum, but it’s how to utilise those players to best effect that seems to be missing the mark.

  • I’m now sure the Afghans, and probably even the Banglas, have better bowling attacks than us so it comes down to how many runs we can eke out. If we don’t better 250 in either game it’s back to pre-season for these numpties, and the dole queue for Mooresy. Or washing Flower’s car.

    Maybe the universe will have the final giggle and make both games wash-outs.

  • We will not win a test this summer. Our bowling is utterly toothless. I will scream if I hear the Sky commentators tell us that Ason and broad are world class. No they are not – they are ordinary. Not a patch on Southee / Boult / Starc / Johnson / Harris / Malinga / Steyn / Morkel.

    If we had scored 400 it would not have been enough.

    What is Ballance doing at 3?

    Why is there no 6th bowler?

    What is happening to our coaching? All our bowlers ( seam) are the same. 80-85Mph and cant move the ball?

    Why is David Saker still in a job?

    Why is Peter Moores still in a job? Remember he relegated Lancs and left them with a team which went down. How many one day trophies has he won? 0

    Hope we lose to afghans / bangladesh so for once and all there is a proper sort out of all the problems.

    • England still haven’t figured out that Test cricket and ODI cricket are two different sports.

  • In case anyone hasn’t seen the link from our favourite other place, here is Mike Walters who has been one of the very few journalists in the traditional press willing to tell it like it about the ECB:


    Also, if anyone hasn’t found it yet, George Dobell has written a superb analysis of England’s bowling on cricinfo which unfortunately won’t link but is well worth seeking out.

  • There’s only one sane way to look at the England\Sri Lanka game: it was a privilege to be on the receiving end of greatness.

    Sangakarra is a prince of the game and this is the last of the summer wine. Such is his mastery of the format that when he came to the crease – as so often – there was an inevitability about his hundred. It’s like a train ride; you know where it ends and you know when, so just sit back and enjoy the journey.He’s so good he almost makes it dull.

    We’re witnessing the last hurrah of a true great. Sure, England was woeful, but he can only beat what’s in front of him. Enjoy it while you can.

    • The first four overs of the Sangakkara-Thirimanne partnership had 14 singles, 1 two and 2 fours. So that’s 24 runs in 24 balls but the main point is the 14 singles.

      • Absolutely. The best ODI batsmen always have a scoring option. Something you notice about Sanga is that he often gives the appearance of batting as if it’s a Test – much as the English do – with few big shots, very little in the air, no sixes, but you look at the scoreboard and realize he’s going at a run-a-ball or better.

        • True even of T20.
          The best players simply refuse to get bogged down, even when they are not dominating.

          • I well remember Cook scoring 300 off 6 balls regularly in the nets …. even now Bell & Ali are yet to be bowled out since they formed an opening partnership in the nets … they are so good I slobber ‘me chops’……

    • Sangakarra is possibly the most underrated batsman of the last 15 years. When conversations about the world’s best batsmen have taken place, he has rarely been mentioned alongside Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting, Kallis and even Jayawardene. When not keeping wicket in tests he averages something in the region of a Bradman-esque 75. He is an absolute genius.

      The thing about Kumar is that you rarely see him making a poor choice of shot. There’s no flourish or flamboyance about him, but he just knows his game, always seems to understand the game situation and take the correct option.

      • Totally agree with all these Sanga plaudits. Joins Kallis in that bracket of all-time greats who are probably not given the respect their astonishing deeds merit outside their home countries.
        And your description of Sangakkara’s strengths could just as easily have been written about Kallis, so I guess the similarities continue!

  • To back up James’s Tweet about England bowling too short (again) – the pitch map analysis on ‘The Verdict’ showed 42% of deliveries were short to RHBs (well, Dilshan) and 39% short to LHBs.

    Apart from disappearing for loads of runs all this short stuff, when allied to all the cross-seamers England bowl, could be degrading the ball and explain why England can’t get it to swing. Southee only bowled four short balls in his entire spell when he took seven-four.

  • Off-topic but I thought some might find it amusing:

    Merv Hughes and Freddie Flintoff are together in the Australian version of I’m a Celebrity (and have obviously been cut off for sometime), For reasons that don’t need going in to, the host of Family Fortunes is conducting a quiz for food rewards. Flintoff’s question was:

    “How many overs did it take NZ to chase down England’s total in the World Cup? a) 12.2 overs, or b) 22.2 overs?

    Merv: ‘12.2 just doesn’t sound feasible’

    Fred: “No. Maybe we got bowled out for 80 or 90, or summat. I’ll say 22.2”

    • Merv is literally just down the road from me at the moment. My wife is the physio for the shoot and the place where they are filming is a family favourite picnic spot.

  • The KP thing is a massive smokescreen.
    Facts are that our batsman did ok, not fantastic but ok. Our bowling attack on the other hand has been toothless for quite some time and once again let us down. If the tournament was organised better with a larger number of small groups (I would like it to be 16 teams in total with four groups of four from which the top two go through) then we would be on the plane home already

    • I think so too – there were a lot of caveats – ‘if’ he commits to playing county cricket, ‘if’ the selectors decide ‘if’ uranus comes into alignment with jupiter.

      Think he’s banking on KP not wanting to get on the county treadmill again.

  • There are, to my mind, two interpretations of Graves’ comments:

    1) A cynical bit of PR – a smokescreen for another abject England performance. By bringing up the KP issue, he knew the press would pounce upon that, hopefully saving Moores and co from as thorough a roasting as they deserve.

    2) A genuine olive branch, designed to tempt our best batsman back into the fold. It’s also a shot across Downton and Whitaker’s bows, an assertion of strength from the incoming chairman, and further evidence he is open-minded and wants to create a new culture within English cricket.

    I really, genuinely hope it’s the latter, but I fear it’s the former. I just can’t see how Moores, Downton, Whitaker and co. would willingly select KP. Of course, Graves has nicely skewered those guys with these remarks – if KP chins off his IPL or CPL contract (given the timing, the IPL one would make more sense) and scores a hatful of runs for Surrey early in the summer, he will make the England management and selectors look like the vindictive bunch of cretins they are if they don’t pick him.

    If KP can stomach the pay cut (which on the basis of his Sky interview, he can), the chance to mock the ECB with a load of runs in county cricket, along with a genuine prospect of an England recall, is likely to be too good to be true. From his perspective, it’s very nearly win-win (the only potential downfall being a failure to score many runs).

    • I don’t think Pietersen is going to do anything without some form of conditional commitment from England.

      As everyone has pointed out, Graves’ comments are studiedly ambiguous. Pietersen is not going to revoke his IPL contract and go back to county cricket effectively for free, if he then risks being told, despite however many runs, ‘sorry, but we believe your attitude just isn’t right for the team’.

      I think the selectors’ hand is going to be forced sooner rather than later.
      If they just say no, it will be interesting to see what Graves does.

      • From the BBC website:
        Colin Graves is correct. Nothing has changed,” said an ECB spokesperson.
        “Only players who are playing consistent high-quality county cricket and who are seen as a positive influence will be selected.”

        Shame they don’t apply that arbitrary ‘positive influence’ test to the coaches…

  • How does KP walk back into a dressing room with Broad and Anderson and others when he did such a hatchet job on them in his book?

    • One foot in front of the other, I believe.

      (Assuming Anderson is still playing, of course.)

      • Colin Graves sounds, to me, like a man who doesn’t mince his words and says exactly what he means, and appears to be the very antithesis of the odious Clarke. I doubt that he would be very pleased to be “clarified” by a ECB “spokesperson” ?
        This whole pot mess is the result of that “meeting of minds” between Flower and Downton during the disappointing Winter.
        We now have the Team, minus Alistair Cook, that the ECB wanted to build in their own image…obsolete, and not fit for purpose!
        Selvey’s article is hugely enlightening, insofar as it perfectly reflects the attitude of Downton and Clarke, and is almost vomit inducing in it’s peurality!!

  • Getting back to the cricket report from Maxie, I think England were satisfied with getting to 309, having been at 160-odd for 4 going into the batting powerplay. 150 off the last 15 was exactly the kind of finishing that’s been lacking in recent times and was probably the best part of England’s game. 60+ for 1 was a good start as well, however scoring 100 runs between overs 10 and 35 is what stuffed England’s chance of a bigger score.

    He gambled on Ballance after Ravi’s problems, but surely they have to go back to Ravi or play Hales, but where to play him? They’ve caused themselves a problem by having a glut of top 3 players and a lack of middle-order power hitters in the squad.


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