Remember when we used to laugh off our ODI humiliations by saying “well, we don’t really take white ball cricket seriously … it’s the Test team that counts”?
Scotland humiliated England in Edinburgh yesterday. We were the world’s No.1 ranked ODI side. Scotland hadn’t even qualified for the next World Cup. Yet an incredible hundred from Calum MacLeod, a batsman who has played for Durham and Warwickshire with somewhat mixed results, sealed an emotional win that will be remembered for a long time. Well played Scotland. You did your country proud.
The Scots deserved their win yesterday in more than one sense. They played the better cricket – that much is obvious – but their historic victory was also some consolation for missing out on World Cup qualification. They were rather unfortunate by all accounts, suffering umpiring incompetence plus bad luck with the weather.
Their performance yesterday also shoved two fingers up at the ICC who decided the limit the World Cup to just ten teams. The official argument was that the presence of so called minnows diluted the quality and competitiveness of the competition. Many suspect, however, that the real reason was money and the fact that the ECB and Cricket Australia didn’t want them there.
It’s ridiculous, of course, to call Scotland minnows when they’ve just racked up 371-5 against the top ranked ODI side. There are some very talented players outside the major nations. Rashid Khan is the most obvious example. And in a game where one or two superb individual performances can decided a match, it’s foolish to write any team off.
I’m sure England fans will remember Kevin O’Brien’s amazing century against England in the 2011 World Cup. And England have suffered at the hands of other minnows too. Remember that shocking defeat to the Netherlands in the T20 World Cup a while back?
It was impossible not to think of the Dutch yesterday because England’s players bore an uncannily resemblance to Dutch footballers in their new shirts. I had to do a double-take when I tuned in. Was that Alex Hales wearing florescent orange or Marco Van Basten?
As the game reached it’s conclusion, I have to admit that a small part of me wanted Scotland to win. It obviously meant so much to them, and several of their players seemed to be enjoying career days. Matthew Cross, who opened the batting and scored 48, played a bit for Notts and has a career List A average of 24. George Munsey, who scored 55, has played a bit for Northants and averages 26.5 in List A cricket. The aforementioned Calum MacLeod has played over 120 List A matches but averages under 30. And Mark Watt, who was Scotland’s star turn with the ball, is only 21 years old and has played only four first class games in which he’s taken eight wickets at an average over 40. Only their captain Kyle Coetzer, who will be familiar to most cricket fans, has a top class pedigree.
However, as this is an England cricket blog, I guess the focus really ought to be on England’s players. Hopefully this defeat will be a kick up the arse and a reminder that they aint all that quite yet. Yes our batting is extremely powerful but our bowling remains a problem. And there’s no answer on the horizon either unless the ECB can cynically reverse their decision to extend the residency qualification period from four to seven years simply to get Jofra Archer in the team. The fact Eoin Morgan had to talk about this directly in a press conference tells a story in itself.
Although England’s batsmen didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, with nobody except Jonny Bairstow converting a good start into three figures, I’m not going to dwell on the batting when the team’s just scored 365. The blame for this defeat lies solely at the feet of our hapless bowling attack. I’ve often bemoaned our lack of a single world class bowling talent. And this is the achilles heel that could well cost England the World Cup.
In 2017 England’s batsmen scored runs faster than any other major nation in the world. What you may have missed amongst the back slapping and hyperbole, however, is that our bowlers conceded runs faster than any other nation. That’s right folks, in 2017 we had statistically the best batting line up but also the worst bowling attack in the world. And is it really any surprise? …
Mark Wood has talent but a fragile body; David Willey is a medium pacer who rarely wins games at county level let alone in an England shirt; Liam Plunkett is a wholehearted cricketer who would be a better enforcer in red ball cricket than a run-stifler in ODIs, and although Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali usually do a decent job, they’re not exactly feared at the top level. No wonder people on Twitter were beginning to mention the names Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad yesterday.
The truth is that champion ODI teams usually have strength in both batting and bowling. This covers all bases. If the batsmen have an off day then the bowlers bail them out and vice versa. The problem with England is that our strategy is simply based on scoring more runs than the opposition. If the batsmen fail then the team generally fails. And we all know that Eoin Morgan’s men do have a penchant for collapsing when they can’t figure out a pitch and aren’t sure what a good score is.
Yesterday was therefore a reminder that the ECB have sacrificed everything – the championship, the Ashes, and the future of our Test team in particular – in order to gamble on World Cup success. Yet all it will take to derail this plan is one poor show from the batsmen. Because make no mistake about it; England’s ODI team IS their batsmen.
England can’t rely on the bowlers like the great World Cup winning Australian teams did. When the likes of Waugh, Gilchrist and Ponting failed, they could turn to McGrath and Warne. Our batsmen have to turn to David Willey.