England have been rubbish at one-day cricket since 1992. How’s that for stating the bleedin’ obvious? If I had a quid for every time a pundit said we’ve fallen behind other nations, I’d have enough dosh to pay this blog’s hosting fees for the next decade.
Here’s a list of our supposed crimes: we bat too cautiously (especially at the top of the order), we become scared of our own shadows during powerplays, our bowlers are too orthodox, we don’t have anyone with an iota of mystery and, last but not least, we don’t even have a decent left-arm seamer. Oh the ignominy!
Of course, all of the above is true. Whenever we play global tournaments abroad – particularly in the subcontinent – we get hammered. It’s because we have, in the words of Paul Collingwood, a ‘prehistoric’ approach to limited overs cricket. This is one of the main things that Strauss’ revolution is supposed to change, although it may take time – New Zealand are still big favourites to win the upcoming series.
Throughout this time, however, England have always had a pretty good excuse: the conditions in England don’t really suit the brand of cricket played by the likes of India and Australia. If your openers try to whack it everywhere in England in May, or even some days at the supposed height of summer, you tend to come unstuck rather quickly.
What’s more, if you look at the history books you’ll see that England have actually performed relatively well in global tournaments on home soil – with the exception of the disastrous 1999 world cup. We reached the final of the Champions Trophy in both 2004 and 2013.
In the first of those tournaments, we had the game in the bag until the Windies tail pulled off a miracle. In 2013 we didn’t play particularly good cricket – our record was won three and lost two – but we still had a good shot at winning the final until we bottled it. Basically, therefore, England are usually pretty competitive in home conditions. We could, and perhaps should, have won both these titles.
That’s why England’s latest glorious summer revolution, which must be about the seventieth we’ve had in limited overs cricket since 1992, has left me scratching my head somewhat.
We’ve all been beseeching England to modernise their brand of one day cricket, so we can compete in tournaments around the world, for years and years. Yet we finally make a concerted effort to do so at precisely the wrong time – in other words, at a time when the next World Cup is being held in England and our archaic form of cricket might actually work!
Obviously the World Cup is a long way away, and it’s important that England build momentum by winning games across the world in the meantime, but I wonder whether other countries will approach the next world cup with a slightly different mindset?
Maybe, just maybe, they’ll head into the 2019 tournament thinking: ‘ok guys, we might not be able to play our natural aggressive way as much as we’d like to in England, so let’s play more conservatively against the two new balls’. They might even select the odd orthodox opener to establish a strong foundation at the top of the innings.
England, meanwhile, could squander their home advantage by approaching the tournament as if it was being played in India: our batsmen go out with all guns blazing, commit hari-kari, and get blown away inside thirty overs. The rest of the world would think we’re nuts.
Consequently, I’d like to express a word of caution on the eve of our latest glorious one-day revolution. All we’ve asked England to do in recent years is stop playing catch up with other nations. It would be nice, for a change, if we could be ahead of the curve.
One-day cricket moves incredibly quickly. The brand of cricket that was played in 2019 might not be the same as the one that dominated in 2015. I would have thought that Andrew Strauss’s job is to anticipate what the prevailing trends of 2019 will be. He might even be able to set these trends.
At the moment, England’s plan is simply to try and copy everyone else. This is exactly what we’ve tried to do a hundred times before, but by the time we’ve got where we want to be, the rest of the world has moved on.
As the world cup is in England this time, we have an opportunity to out-think everyone else and develop a brand of cricket that will be hard to beat in our own backyard. England should have an advantage in the next world cup. Let’s not squander it.
Thus far I’m not convinced that Andrew Strauss is thinking straight. When he met the media a few weeks ago, he talked about England playing a modern brand of limited overs cricket (nothing wrong with that of course) and his desire to include more specialist limited overs players (hmmm, not so sure about that). In fact, Strauss talked enthusiastic about creating more ‘separation’ between the test and ODI sides, so that they became totally different entities.
This strategy worries me greatly. It isn’t actually modern at all. In fact, England have tried it several times without success before: think back to the days of specialists like Ali Brown, Adam Hollioake, Mark Ealham and Neil Smith. The plan was rubbish, results were poor, and we went back to the far more sensible plan of simply picking our best cricketers.
Having just watched Australia win another World Cup at a canter, you’d have thought Strauss might have learned a thing or two: Australia’s team in the final was as follows: Warner, Finch, Smith, Clarke, Watson, Maxwell, Faulkner, Haddin, Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood.
Only three of those players are not in Australia’s Ashes squad, and one of them (Faulkner) played in the fifth test at The Oval in 2013. Consequently, Australia’s world cup winners included just two players who could be termed one-day ‘specialists’. Yet Strauss wants an entire team of them.
Just looking at England’s revolutionary new squad, one wonders where the genuine quality lies. James Taylor averages 51 in List A cricket, and Jos Buttler 45, but the others likely to start on Tuesday average in the mid-thirties: Hales (35), Roy (32), Morgan (36) and Stokes (31).
The bowling is also a huge worry, although the cupboard is largely bare so it’s hard to be too critical: Wood’s List A wickets cost less than thirty but other than Steve Finn (who isn’t the bowler he once was), the others cannot say the same.
England’s new left-arm seamer, David Willey, will be nothing more than a medium-pacer at international level. Willey is a gutsy and combative cricketer, and he’s useful with the bat, but my expectations are not particularly high for someone who averages 32 at county level with an economy rate of 5.6.
Spin bowling is also a big worry. There’s a lot to like about Adil Rashid as a cricketer, but his domestic record really isn’t much to write home about. Let’s hope he’s matured as much as his fans believe. England desperately need their very own Imran Tahir.
My thoughts on England’s brave new ODI world can therefore be summarised thus: when we take the field at Edgbaston we’ll be basing our long-term strategy on two premises that are quite possibly flawed.
The first is that copying the blueprint established by this year’s world cup finalists is the right way to go. The next world cup will be played in different conditions, possibly under slightly different regulations, and the best teams might not play the same brand of cricket as a result.
The second is that England haven’t even diagnosed their rivals’ strategy at the last world cup correctly. Australia and New Zealand do not believe in packing the side with one-day specialists. This will be apparent as soon as the Black Caps take the field.
Nine of the eleven cricketers who played in New Zealand’s last ODI represented the test team at Lord’s and Headingley. England’s squad only contains four players who played in those games.
Let us hope that Andrew Strauss knows better than Darren Lehmann, Mike Hesson and Brendon McCullum. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure he does.
England Squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Jos Buttler (wkt), Sam Billings (wkt), Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, David Willey, Mark Wood
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (capt) Corey Anderson Trent Boult Grant Elliott Martin Guptill Matt Henry Tom Latham Mitchell McLenaghan Nathan McCullum Luke Ronchi Mitchell Santner Tim Southee Ross Taylor Ben Wheeler Kane Williamson.