Tuesday, September 2, 2014

England and ODI cricket – what is it that you want?

As I sit here writing this, England are heading towards being 3-0 down in the one day series against India while Andrew Strauss peddles his usual line that Ravi Bopara is the answer to everything (given how little bottle he shows at the top level, I’d hate to think what the question is) and David Gower lines up the excuses for yet another inept performance in what has looked a whitewash since the squad was picked.

And I wonder for myself what does English one day cricket want and where does it go from here?

Well it’s certainly not to win the World Cup, despite the laughable claims that those ‘inside’ cricket (and therefore entitled to an opinion, unlike those such as me who just pays all their salaries through going to games and Sky Sports subscriptions) have been peddling for weeks and weeks.

You’re not going to win the World Cup playing one day cricket in 1986 like England still does.
In fact I’ll be surprised if England gets past Bangladesh to make it out of their group in Australia and my native New Zealand in next year’s tournament, let alone avoids getting trounced 7-0 in Sri Lanka.  At present it only seems that rain will prevent that.

To understand where the ODI game (and T20 to a lesser extent) goes here for England, you first need to examine what is wrong with it, and that is four main issues:

(i)                Scheduling
(ii)              Conditions
(iii)             Tactics
(iv)             Selection

Scheduling

The test match game is the priority for England (unlike other countries, where the limited over stuff is as important – if not more so) given the attendances and the staggering ticket prices they charge, so the peak times for weather and crowds are where the tests land in the calendar.

One day cricket is treated as preparation for tests.

One day games end up as an afterthought in the calendar, squeezed in after lucrative test series with key players rested (and not allowed to turn out for their counties, where they could be gaining further experience at the time when the T20 is being played in the optimal limited overs conditions, in front of big crowds and for lucrative financial reward), the public and the media giving them less attention and a general attitude by all that they don’t really matter.

England players don’t have the experience (apart from when they go overseas or in tournaments and get their ritual hammerings) of games when the pressure is on for selection, from the media and the public and in the optimal conditions with the results really mattering.

Realistically this isn’t going to change – the ECB, Sky Sports, the players and the sponsors make their money out of test cricket, and we’ve learned from the IPL (which matters to Indian and many international players way more than test matches do) that you don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Can anything be done to help though in the schedule?

Bringing back some real competition when one day games are played would be a nice start – and a tri-series really helps with that.  I don’t see why that can’t fit into the schedule either, as two sides tour each year for test series.  Next year that’s New Zealand and Australia, so play a three way series between the two test series and tailor the prize money accordingly to make it more relevant.

Another idea I remember from growing up in NZ is what used to happen when test matches ended early (and let’s face it, having watched NZ play for 30 years I have plenty of experience of that!) … which was to schedule a one day international on days 4 or 5 (or whatever), ensuring that revenue comes in (helping with the “chief executives’ pitches” issue no doubt) and that games get played in optimal conditions amongst competitive sides.  I recall well how angry the side that had badly lost the test match often was, turning in a really aggressive one day performance.

In this day and age cricketers are professional and it shouldn’t be hard to make this happen if the administrators show an actual will to do it rather than put obstacles in the way.

Yes you can pull players out of day 2 or 3 in a championship game if needed or even (shock, horror) give someone new a go to give them experience of international short game cricket.

Conditions

This is very much linked to the point above,  but England don’t play games of one day cricket at home (outside of tournaments) in the same conditions that teams in other countries do – in hot weather (when the ball seldom swings) or on hard and fast pitches.

Hence when they go to India and South Africa for limited overs cricket, or even Australia and New Zealand, the conditions are foreign and the opposition are expert at playing in them as second nature … and England loses accordingly.  Usually badly.

I do also need to address an important point here to counter the utter drivel spoken by Knight and Botham on Sky about the World Cup conditions.  They’re the worst of the lot, but the commentators as a whole compare the current England schedule with what happened when they played, rather than what the rest of the world are doing.

This insular attitude means that they really have missed the point when talking about conditions, and their musings really add no value whatsoever.

Let’s examine England’s World Cup fixtures:

Feb 14
vs Australia
MCG, Melbourne
Feb 20
vs New Zealand
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Feb 23
vs Scotland
Hagley Oval, Christchurch
Mar 1
vs Sri Lanka
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Mar 9
vs Bangladesh
Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
Mar 13
vs Afghanistan
SCG, Sydney

It’s not really worth going into the next round of games (as England has little chance of getting past Bangladesh into fourth place), but if they did they would then have a quarter final again at the ‘Cake Tin’ in Wellington.

Examining the grounds and the conditions in New Zealand, you have 1 game at a totally new ground for international cricket in Christchurch (Lancaster Park having been condemned by the earthquake) and a pair at the ‘Cake Tin’, which is now used for one day cricket rather than the Basin Reserve.  And will be on a drop in pitch.  None of which the commentators have any playing experience of themselves.

Spouting on about what is likely to happen in the games as if they were played at the Basin and Lancaster Park using old pitches and in the 1980s just adds no value whatsoever and, at worst, will add to a mindset of poor preparation for England.

In this day and age of sports science, it shouldn’t be beyond the ECB and the counties to prepare hard and fast pitches (even if they are drop ins, which I don’t get why nobody in English cricket will countenance – I can only assume it’s insular arrogance) on which a par score is 325-350.

If they don’t get prepared, counties shouldn’t get the games.  There really is no value in appeasing everyone.

Sure it won’t sort out playing games at odd times of year, but combined with sorting the schedule as above should put England well on the way to playing limited overs cricket in the current century.

Tactics

Being a NZ cricket fan (we don’t call ourselves the “Black Craps” for nothing), I’m used to us having to be more than the sum of our parts in one day cricket when we have lesser talent than other countries – and that’s down to captaincy and leadership.

In Alastair Cook, England has the most tactically inept captain I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been saying this since he took over from (the decidedly average himself) Andrew Strauss in terms of his field placings, his use of bowlers, his declarations (in tests) and his general use of tactics.

England have always been formulaic in one day cricket, but under Cook it’s at its lowest ebb.

I find myself sitting on the sofa more than once when England play the limited overs game shouting at the TV (or when I go in person):

FOR GOD’S SAKE, TRY SOMETHING!

I was brought up on one day cricket as (in reality) invented by World Series Cricket, in which all kinds of tactical innovations were tried, and was a big part of me falling in love with the game.

In those days you’d see all the kinds of things that England need to be doing now, plus other things that recent rule changes open up.

England needs to be doing the things that the innovative Kiwi skippers like Brendon McCullum and, before him, Stephen Fleming (the best captain I’ve seen) and Martin Crowe (the inventor of what is now T20 cricket) do like:
  • Taking the batting power play at a different time - If the opposition is on top, take it before the 36th over and disrupt their rhythm.
  • Vary the batting order – I remember how Australia using Craig McDermott and Shane Warne at 3 or 4 occasionally utterly threw the opposition.  Putting Jos Buttler in at 3 when all else has failed at least would make MS Dhoni think on his feet (which is not his strength, just as it isn’t for his counterpart).
  • Be innovative with the use of bowlers.  Crowe was of course the master of this when he opened with Dipak Patel in the 1992 World Cup (ironically the last time England innovated in this form of the game), but England use the same bowlers at the same time of each innings.  Always.  If it’s not working, give bowlers one over spells, bowl a spinner in the power play, bowl a quick completely out in the middle of the innings and dry up the runs occasionally (etc etc etc).
  • Ditto on field placings.  Remember how the two short leg side fielders to Graham Gooch totally threw his confidence through distraction if not technique as well?   Why not just give it a go?  Do something different!
Brendon McCullum clearly has a rule he lives by as the captain – if you’re good enough to get into the side, you’re expected to be good enough (i.e. accountable) to win games without the captain protecting you with defensive tactics (as seen by his really aggressive declarations in tests, expecting his bowlers to win the game).

McCullum’s mindset: Attack, attack, attack.

The setting of targets for runs at the end of each over (as Graeme Swann has said that England do) is a clear symptom of their formulaic nature.

They have the wrong captain (in all forms of the game) and maybe even the wrong coach – but if nothing else they need a fresh approach on both fronts.

Eoin Morgan (for want of a better option) needs to be made permanent skipper of the one day sides now and a specialist one day coach (or tactician) appointed.  The first line on the job description for the latter would be for me:

“Must not be English.”

Selection

It’s time to stop being (unsuccessfully) conservative and start being aggressive.

Fundamentally one day cricket now is as close to tests as Rugby is to Rugby League, and England now need to pick their sides accordingly.

No other side in the world would pick three ‘anchor’ batsman.  In fact most others wouldn’t have more than one, if that.

England continuously drops bowlers when the batsmen fail, but it’s time to have proper specialist sides for one day cricket and tests, and to paraphrase Tom Moody this week, start with being dynamic and go from there.
Three (if not four) of Cook, Bell, Root and Ballance need to be excluded from the side – and much as I would pick KP myself (and haven’t paid to see England play this season because of them not picking their best players), people talk about the young trio of Hales, Roy and Vince.  I’ve not seen much of them, but they’re young and if they have the ability get them in the side and keep them there.

Personally I’d keep Root in myself, as he has the ability to vary his game and play in different ways – the hallmark of the modern international cricketer.

When it comes to bowlers, the priority for England will always be to get their test attack right – and hence (given the priority of tests) they don’t have the luxury of a Malinga or a Shaun Tait who will only play the shorter form of the game.

So when it comes to pacemen, England need to rotate their best talent and to use one day cricket as a testing ground for the players of the future in the longer form of the game.  Pick them young, tell them to bowl as fast as they can and knock batsmen over in the opposition (best way of defending is to attack and all that).

In terms of a slow bowling option, the funniest thing I heard in days was Jack Bannister on TalkSport saying that James Tredwell was one of the top limited overs bowlers in the world.

Yes, he actually said that.

This is a bowler scarcely good enough to play first class cricket, who got destroyed by the Australians in the one day series down under when he was found out – and, despite being an honest toiler (I have nothing personal against him), is nowhere near on the same level as Herath, Lyon, Mendis, Ashwin, Ajmal, Narine and … well, you get the point.

Whether Moeen or Rashid is the right solution I don’t know, but if you’re going to specialise then Rashid is probably worth persevering with.

No comments:

Post a Comment