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CRICKET: What now for England?

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SERIOUS questions need to be asked of the England cricket team’s hierarchy following their early departure from the World Cup.

Catcalls have already rung out across the land calling for heads to fall and changes made all across the shop. During this tournament, which they still the have the dead rubber of a match with Afghanistan to play, England have looked like a frightened rabbit hoping taking the middle ground on the road between two car lights will see it survive. In this case though, as the old joke goes, they got run over and splattered to death because the headlights belonged to a Robin Reliant three wheeler.

The above joke, actually told to me with hedgehogs as the main characters, but any woodland creature works well in it, is one of my all time favourites and is among the first I use whenever asked at a party or some sort of social gathering to tell a joke. But in an odd way, it is very apt for the experience England have just gone through in Australia and New Zealand. They have gone to the competition with a logic which in the end has been proven not to work.

There is a sense now the cricketing world in it’s one day international form has changed pace and the English have not tagged along. You can jump onboard the bullet train, we will walk and see you at the end they say.

In a World Cup where it has become almost normal to see batsmen smash their way past the 400 mark, England have struggled to 300 on two occasions in five group matches so far. On one those occasions, they then had to see Sri Lanka make mincemeat of the total they had put up as Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkarra blast past it for the loss of just one wicket. Other teams have gone for more attacking approaches in the first ten overs and then the last ten overs. England have never really looked comfortably at the crease nor known when to accelerate.

On the bowling side of things, other teams have plumped for a more pitch it up and swing the ball plan as the main course with a dash of variation of pace and length just to keep the batsmen thinking. England did not agree with that policy and instead gone with the good lengths will surely peg batsmen back approach. But length balls do not cut the mustard nowadays. They have become the sit up and hit me balls. Batters now take a couple of steps down the wicket and turn them into a half volley. Length balls are of course still a key element of bowling at the highest level, but they are not the fashionable stock ball anymore.

As ever, there are a million different opinions flying around discussing the question posed in the title of this article. The players have not even returned home and every man and his dog has come up with their own idea of what the team should do to get better.

Now it is my turn to offer my view and in my opinion, there are three questions which need answering.

1) Do England need a change of management?

This is not just to do with head coach Peter Moores but also the national team’s managing director Paul Downton. As he has pointed out himself in interviews, it was his job to appoint Andy Flower’s replacement after their dismal Ashes series on Australian soil in 2013/14. It was a bold appointment choosing to place Moores back in charge of the team which had not really flourished under his previous employment five years earlier, which resulted in a near mutiny and his position becoming untenable. Since then he has arguably been the most successful coach on the county scene but it was still a risky move.

With a poor record hanging over him from his last tenure, Moores needed to prove he really was the right man for the job. When you look at the results though they are hardly inspiring though. He has won a test series against India at home, reversing a series defeat suffered under him in 2007. But his first test match series back in the hotseat saw him fall to a 1-0 loss to Sri Lanka at home. Then of course the limited over stuff is not brilliant either with a record of played 32, won 12, lost 20. It is not what you would say is a marked improvement.

The question asked of him in quite a forceful manner in 2008 by then captain Kevin Pietersen was “Is he really good enough to coach us?”. The answer then was no and the evidence would suggest it is the same again.

If he does get the chop, what of the man who appointed him in the first place? Someone will have to pick another replacement and how much can you trust the man who has made one poor decision rectify it. In an ideal world no man is permanently judged on one bad choice he makes, but the sporting world is cut throat and Downton will probably be remembered as the man who helped make a mess of England’s cricket team in 2015.

Will the ECB make a change at the top? It is unclear. Just like England’s batsmen, they are unsure whether to stick or twist. Their choice will be crucial though. It will also show the hand of new ECB chairman Colin Graves. He has posed as an innovator so far and this could be his chance to make an early change.

2) How can we prepare better for the tournament?

In 2019, England will be the host nation of the World Cup and it will come 20 years since they last hosted it. That time they limped out at the group stage and they desperately want to avoid that again, especially following their showing in the current tournament.

Going into Australia and New Zealand, the team focused purely on one day cricket as soon as the final test match with India finished at the Oval on August 17. It gave them six months to come up with a plan. But look what happened.

Their opponents have been preparing themselves for much longer for this tournament. A big part of this is based around the fact many countries take ODIs and Twenty20 more seriously than tests, something which England see the opposite way round. But they all knew it was important to trial players and see what they had in the tank before the World Cup in order not to go home with egg on their face.

England went for the unwise let’s just cram it in last minute before the exam. Just like in school life, the grades which came back were bad using this method. If they are to have a real chance on home soil in 2019, they need to prepare better and earlier. Even starting from now would be beneficial. Look at who is likely to be playing in that competition and start building the squad around them. Guys like Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler and Steven Finn look likely to be key players in the future, so lets get them in class and make them the nucleus.

3) Do we need a change a change of tactic?

This is the biggest bugbear from the tournament. England have clearly had their tactics smashed out of the park by their rivals yet they seem almost zombie-like in their insistence they will be proved right in the end. Just like in most zombie movies though, they did not take over the world.

Continuing the way they have in the competition has been practically nonsensical. You could say the players have not performed to their best standard, but they have not been given the best plans to work with either.

Yes you need to follow the beat of your own drum. It would be even more stupid to try and get your best players to attempt stuff they are not good at. But it is important to watch how others bang their drums and if they are getting better results, how can you improve your tune to get something similar?

Moores has rightfully taken a bit of a lashing after saying he would go back and look at the “data” after Bangladesh beat England and condemned them to an early exit. The main data he should be looking at is what the scores say. Other teams are not as interested in the statistical risk-reward mantra adopted by England. Cricket is not about playing this shot because it will work better more often, it is about playing the right shot or bowling the right ball at the right time.

England need to learn a lesson from what their opponents have done in the one day game in recent years and see how they can master it themselves.

Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : George Thorpe

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