It is an all-too-familiar tale for England in the One-Day arena. Conservative batting, unimaginative bowling, a general lack of pragmatism and inventiveness – I could go on. Time and again they are getting schooled by teams who are playing a brand of cricket which is light-years ahead. Against an India team that were comprehensively outclassed in the Test series, England are finding that revenge is a dish served pretty chilly. Losses by 6 wickets, 9 wickets and 133 runs are not close encounters; they are absolute thrashings. So why is it that a team which triumphed 3-1 in the Test series be so totally outplayed not three weeks later?
England have historically been ambivalent at best towards One-Day cricket. Players are rightly brought-up to view Test cricket as the ultimate goal, and pyjama cricket as an added extra. In this country especially, One-Day internationals are usually tagged on the end of an intense Test Series where interest is waning from both players and spectators alike. I am yet to meet any serious fan who prefers the shorter form of the game. Overseas however the One-Day arena is treasured, not least on the subcontinent where crowds are much larger than for Test cricket. Nevertheless, England should be commended for preserving the popularity of the 5-day game over the crash-bang-wallop of limited-overs cricket.
Yet it is the lack of any crash-bang-wallopesque cricket which is currently hindering the national side. No one loves orthodox cricket shots more than me, but there is a time and a place for them – the test arena. One-Day cricket has moved on. No longer can one patiently build an innings at a leisurely strike-rate. The requirement is that batsmen attack the bowling from ball one. As scores of 300 become commonplace at a rate of one run per ball, a conservative approach is doomed to failure. Yes there are situations where a pragmatic approach is prudent, but the time when pottering along to set a target of 250 has passed.
So how do England escape the mire and become realistic challengers for the World Cup in just 6 month’s time? With great difficulty. As long as Alastair Cook is at the top of the order England will continue to struggle. Get off to a fast start and the middle-order can relax and play their shots knowing that a competitive total is almost guaranteed – and this puts pressure on the bowling team. If, like England, the openers do not take advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first 10 overs, the team is always playing catch-up. It is not a recipe for long-term success.
I don’t necessarily think there needs to be wholesale personnel changes to the team. The basic spine of Root, Buttler, Tredwell, Bell, Anderson and Broad (if fit) is strong. I like the introduction of Alex Hales at the top of the order who, if he stays in for 20-30 overs, can take the game away from the opposition. Steven Finn is another who I rate very highly and who causes batsmen real problems whatever form of the game he plays. He is key to England’s prospects of success in the future.
Two selections baffle me. Eoin Morgan must have some very incriminating photos of James Whittaker because his continued presence in the England side is perplexing. He has not played an innings of substance or significance for at least two years and often wastes valuable balls scratching around for form. Gary Ballance would be a much better alternative in the middle order.
Equally, Ben Stokes has never convinced me as player of international class. With bat in hand his recent form has made Chris Martin look like Sachin Tendulkar – he has also been expensive with the ball. The team’s all-rounder should be able to contribute in at least one facet of the game but Stokes is doing neither and is currently a waste of a position in the team. I feel he is still living off his exploits over the winter in Australia. Ravi Bopara’s international experience of almost 10 years has been bizzarely jettisoned and I would like to see him back in the fold as soon as possible. His batting is far superior to Stokes’ and he can also bowl troublesome cutters that opposition batsmen find oddly difficult to hit.
In an ideal world England would have a player like Surrey’s Jason Roy or Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor in the side. Both have been selected for the one-off T20 international and, after his exploits in the Natwest T20 Blast, it will be interesting to see how Roy fares on the international stage – he will certainly improve the strike-rate. Taylor has merited his place in the squad through sheer weight of runs in the domestic 50-over competition and he is certainly knocking on the door of both the One-Day and Test squads. After bursting on the scene so spectacularly earlier this year, Chris Jordan’s star has waned slightly. His bowling is still too erratic but he remains a useful lower-order batsman and I think he is worth persevering with.
Not even the most optimistic England fan could envisage Alastair Cook’s men lifting the World Cup trophy in Australia in March. Even though the team has some class operators, they don’t produce the goods often enough when it matters. If one were to look at the best teams in the world, they all have a plethora of match-winners and usually at least one player steps up to the plate and performs. England currently lack this (apart from possibly Anderson), and consequently, although it pains me to say it, they won’t win the World Cup.