Firstly, may I take this opportunity to say I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year period and apologise for not updating this blog in almost a month. I was working full-time and only had Christmas Day, New Years Day and Sundays off, all of which I happened to be busy on. I was going to review 2014 however it’s not a terrible thing that I didn’t get around to that as almost all of my teams had horrible years! Looking forward, what is happening in 2015 in the world of sport? Well, besides it being potentially the most exciting tennis season to date (read Josh’s article on that here as well as our predictions for our year end top 10), it happens to be a World Cup year. Potentially the least watched major World Cup (at least in this country), the 50 over cricket competition has been upstaged by it’s more fashionable 20 over sibling but winning it still means a lot.
Secondly, a confession. A few days ago (on the 9th of January) Michael Vaughan wrote an article for the Telegraph titled “How England can be one-day wonders”. It went on to say that with a blank canvas, an exciting batting line up, and an innovative captain the groundwork had been laid for an intriguing future. He argued that improving our fielding and new ball bowling, as well as picking up wickets in the middle overs and chasing 300 could see England win the World Cup. Despite the obvious flaws in this (mainly that that’s a hell of a lot to improve in a month) it was refreshing to read an article that didn’t insult people or destroy all the happiness you had. Positivity is an incredibly, and increasingly, rare commodity in our national press and hence I tweeted saying how refreshing it was to read. Someone replied to me saying negative thinking won’t produce positive results and I couldn’t agree more, however this article is, sadly, going to be predominantly negative.
Even by our spectacularly low standards, England’s build up to this World Cup has been dreadful at best. After losing last years Ashes series 5-0, we lost a home test series to Sri Lanka, beat a poor Indian side but lost every One-Day series we played against test nations (except the single T20 over India – more on that later). Alastair Cook had gone from hero in Australia 2010-11, unbelievable captain in India 2012-13, Ashes’ winning captain in 2013 to seemingly a national disgrace. Yes, he was incredibly out of form but I thought the way the media attacked him was, quite frankly, disgusting. However, even I couldn’t possibly argue he deserved to be One Day captain. He hasn’t scored a century since 2012, won man of the match since 2013, his bowling changes were too rigid and fields too obvious. Despite the worst summer since England cricket’s dark days, Cook remained in charge going into a 7 match series in Sri Lanka, which England lost convincingly. It was the final straw for Cook as he was dropped and Eoin Morgan hired as full time England captain.
The situation wasn’t rosy off the field either. Kevin Pietersen wasn’t happy about being ejected from the England team and so used Piers Morgan and his book to attack almost every person involved with English cricket. Now, I won’t go into the details of this because it isn’t important for this article, however Pietersen is. With Pietersen, England have a natural accelerator in all forms of the game. They have an incredibly talented high middle order batter with the ability to take the game away in 4 or 5 overs. A middle order of him, Morgan, Root, Taylor and Buttler is a middle order that could rival any of the other nations. Without him, while the batting still looks strong it lacks the player that every single nation would be afraid of. For better or for worse, Pietersen won’t play another international match. Off the field that might mean a more harmonious dressing room but on it, it means we are relying too much on the Irish captain, Morgan.
On the face of it, Morgan is a good choice for captain. Unbelievably cool under pressure, he’s proved in his career that he can captain well and bat well while doing it. At 22 he captained Middlesex for the first time, and led them to their first 4-day win of that season. His batting average while being captain is 71, and he was the man in charge when England beat India in that T20 match I mentioned earlier. That, for me, is more relevant than it may seem. India are almost unbeatable in T20’s while England can essentially never win them. Not only did Morgan captain well, it was his innings which made sure they had a total India couldn’t chase. If he repeats that at the World Cup, we will do very well indeed. For every positive however, there is a negative. Morgan may well be a talented batsman but he is going through an extended patch of horrendous form. It’s possible that a stint as captain will improve that, yet it’s nowhere near guaranteed. Eoin has always promised to become a great player for England despite never getting there. It’s now or never for him, this needs to be the World Cup when he becomes unplayable and leads England to a victory or close to it or else he never will.
With England, it always appears to be one step forward, two back. Despite creating cricket and the World Cup, we always appear to be the nation least interested in it. Perhaps it’s the unusual placing of it on our sporting calendar (usually early on in an odd-numbered year) although that should help it’s stature, or more likely the fact our pessimistic state of mind says there is no point getting excited because there is no way we are going to win. Curiously, that attitude doesn’t exist in football, a sport that we are even worse at, possibly as a result of an English side having actually won a World Cup before. For reasons unknown to any logical human being, fifty overs just isn’t the favourite format of the people involved in the English set up. Every time we play on the international stage we embarrass ourselves by being too cautious, too out-dated and simply a mess. So, with the hiring of Morgan I thought, “finally, we’ve turned a corner”. Oh how wrong I was. I should have guessed really, the people in charge of English cricket can never learn the most basic of lessons.
Morgan being captain meant Cook wasn’t included in the World Cup squad. In Sri Lanka, England gave Moeen Ali, a player I like a lot, a chance at the top of the order and he shone so deserves to keep his place. The question going into this World Cup is not should he play, it is who should partner him. The answer seems simple, the man who replaced Cook in the squad: Hales. Alex Hales is the polar opposite of Cook. Preferring to take risks and score quickly, he will either score a century or not make 20. He is the ideal opener, the closest we have to Chris Gayle and he has been incredibly successful in 20 over cricket. While he hasn’t done it yet in 50 overs, at 26 it is now time for him to stake his claim. What better than at a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand? Except, like the broken record they are, England don’t see it like that.
Seemingly choosing caution over a chance to actually win this, during the first warm up match England chose to partner Ali with Ian Bell. Now, don’t get me wrong Ian Bell is an incredibly gifted cricketer who is ten times better than Cook at playing ODI’s however he still isn’t what we need. He is a similar player to Cook but probably more suited to doing the Trott role at 3 than opening. The first 10 overs of an ODI are the power play and time and time again England choose to waste these precious overs with fielding restrictions. With cautious batting and few boundaries, it not only is boring it stops us from reaching the magic 300 mark. Despite his half century in the warm up, Bell is not the answer at the top, Hales is. Getting rid of the captain but keeping his style of play seems both pointless and backwards. It’s like they got rid of Cook to herald the birth of a new era but instead snuck the same mistakes through the back door. As Vaughan said in that article I mentioned earlier:
“We know what Ian Bell can deliver and we have him waiting in the background if Hales fails. Also Bell is always a more dangerous player when he feels he has a point to prove. But he has to wait and watch while Moeen and Hales use the triangular series to fire.”
The England selectors have been clever, beating an Australian Capital Territory XI should never be used as the basis for any kind of article however the team selected set a dangerous premise of just repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I honestly think those in charge of the ECB just don’t care enough about limited overs to give a damn how it goes in Australia. Morgan, like Cook and Strauss before him, is a scapegoat to push the blame on should everything go wrong again. English cricket has had many shake ups this year but none of them mean anything until we get someone in power that actually has modern knowledge of the one day game. The good moves, bringing in Taylor, Buttler and Ali and giving Morgan and Root more responsibility could all be hindered if we have an opening partnership which can’t score quickly enough from the get-go. I appreciate the need for caution however Root, Taylor and Morgan have all shown restraint and the ability to carve innings out in the past so deserve to be the ones left with that task. We need Ali and Hales to go out and get us 100-150 runs in the first half of the innings. Only then can we realistically talk about winning this World Cup. With those two opening we have a chance every time we bat of getting 300 and winning matches, without them we don’t and our bowling isn’t good enough to defend 250. If they fail, we have the quality in our middle order to restore balance to the innings, if they don’t we have a great platform that allows Morgan, Bopara and Buttler to strike the ball freely. I’ve never understood the English mentality that turning up is all that matters. At international tournaments, we should go gung-ho and actually try and win. I’d rather England lost trying to win than exit without so much as a hit out in vain. I’m sure most agree when I say I’d rather they died on their feet than lived on their knees.
My positive mood after reading Vaughan’s (who btw, would be my choice to get in the England set up. A former captain who actually knew what he was doing, he knows the England dressing room inside out and has a very detailed knowledge of modern cricket) article was demolished by the continued head bashing on the wall selection of a one day side. If he plays, I hope Bell proves me wrong, after all he is a magnificent batter to watch, however I hope more that he doesn’t have the chance to prove me wrong or right. Let’s move on from the Pietersen era, but use his legacy to remove ourselves from the over-cautious English default setting. Instead of acting snobby towards the one-day competitions, lets actually use them to make us a better cricketing nation. The continued reluctance to do so is unbelievably frustrating and damaging to our cricketing future. Like a broken record, they keep darting back to the same methods that have failed in the past. It’s fair to say that England are already a laughing stock on the world stage, and I have a horrible feeling that without drastic changes this World Cup will only prove that.