All is not lost but changes are needed, and fast, if England are to seriously compete at next year’s World Cup, writes Peter Miller.
England’s World Cup run starts this week. In the Telegraph, former Wisden editor Scyld Berry said that if England lose more than four games in the forthcoming seven-match series against Sri Lanka they should abandon this World Cup and concentrate on the next one, on home turf, in 2019. There is no better illustration of how low expectations are than saying England should aim to lose the series by as small a margin as possible.
The concept that England should just bin any idea of competing in next year’s World Cup is all the more jarring when you consider the Ashes were made a back-to-back affair last winter to allow for an extensive warm-up for the tournament. They can compete; they just need to do a few things differently.
James Tredwell is massively undervalued. He averages 25 with the ball, the fifth-best of any England bowler who has delivered more than 1,500 balls in ODIs. He takes wickets at an identical strike-rate to Saeed Ajmal. He concedes less than five runs an over, a statistic that puts him in the ‘world-class’ category in one-day cricket.
During the one-day series versus India this summer there was a reluctance to play Tredwell and Moeen Ali in the same side, with Alastair Cook saying he felt having two off-spinners in the side was the wrong move. While they may play in tandem in Sri Lanka, on the quicker pitches in Australia and New Zealand they’re expected to pick just one, with Moeen likely to get the nod on the basis of him being a far better batsman. But Tredwell is a must pick, whether Moeen plays or not.
If you get in, go big
In the last two years there have been 52 not out hundreds in ODIs. Of those, England have managed four, with one coming from Jonathan Trott who is not in the current set-up. As the ODI game evolves with stricter fielding restrictions, smaller boundaries and bigger bats, the game is more about big totals than ever before. If England want to compete at this World Cup they need their top-order to get in and stay in. All too often England players have scored a decent fifty off 70-odd balls and failed to kick on. In many ways, getting out for a 15-ball 30 is less of a crime than 65 off 90 deliveries. This is a message England have been unable to take on board.
Actually be aggressive, don’t just say you’re going to be
‘Aggression’ was clearly a buzzword as England’s players spoke to the press this week. “There is a lot of hard work to be done but when we get out there we’ve got to be aggressive, we’ve got to be fearless and give it everything. I think people would rather see us be aggressive and lose instead of being timid and come away with nothing,” said Ian Bell. “We will need to be more explosive throughout the innings, not just at the start, with us all taking more responsibility,” Eoin Morgan told us. Even those no longer in the squad are on message, with Andrew Strauss, England’s captain at the last World Cup, saying: “They’ve been far too fearful of getting out. And you can’t make 400 if you’ve got that kind of attitude.” Showing aggression is imperative, of course. But it’s a lot easier to say than do.
Don’t die at the death
England simply have to concede fewer runs in the last 10 overs of an innings. At Cardiff this summer, India scored almost 100 runs between the 40th and 50th overs with all England’s seamers going the distance and serving up wides, long hops and full tosses. Stuart Broad has routinely avoided bowling at the death in T20s and Jimmy Anderson has never really found a way to be as effective with the old ball as he is with the new, but it’s not that the bowlers are incapable of keeping it tight, it’s a case of executing poor plans badly. With England’s shortcomings in setting large totals, there’s even more pressure on the bowlers to restrict their opponents.
Be prepared to drop Cook
Lawrence Booth has reported in the Daily Mail that England will go with a top three of Cook, Moeen and Bell in their tour opener against Sri Lanka A at Colombo. This means that Alex Hales, the most aggressive top-order batsman in the squad, will sit on the sidelines. This jars with the protestations that England will be looking to be explosive from the off. For all the talk of Hales being sacrificed for Moeen, that isn’t really the case. He is being dropped to find a place for Alastair Cook.
Since the Champions Trophy in 2013, Cook has passed 50 once in 14 innings at a strike-rate of 71. If he weren’t captain, he wouldn’t be in the side. His teammates have leapt to his defence, Morgan saying: “[Cook] has been light on runs but then so have I and so has Ian Bell. Cooky can score quickly enough.” Perhaps Cook can score quicker, the problem is that he hasn’t. England talk of being aggressors but that’s not going to happen with Cook at the top of the order. The only people that seem to feel he is the right man for the job are the selectors. If England are serious about winning this World Cup then a poor series from Cook in Sri Lanka should see him calling time on his captaincy, or the team management doing it for him.
Follow Peter Miller @TheCricketGeek