This has been, without doubt, the worst winter in the history of English cricket. It is not overstating things to say that both the Ashes and World Cup could not have gone any worse. In nine games against top-eight opposition, England have lost every game; and only once, against Sri Lanka, did they even achieve an honorable defeat.
The one-day defeat to South Africa was utterly pathetic. England’s archaic strategy was exposed for what it is and, frankly, they were shown to be simply not good enough, lacking in fundamental quality and nous.
The fallout from the winter will be big. Duncan Fletcher, who has done a terrific job, will now surely have to go. Sadly, he has not vindicated those who laughed at Geoff Boycott’s suggestion in October that his time was up. Michael Vaughan, clearly, will have to be pushed aside as ODI captain; he is 32, so has no chance of playing in the next World Cup, and will leave behind an awful ODI record.
Andrew Flintoff, meanwhile, now cuts an increasingly forlorn figure; his batting has disintegrated to the point when number six, in both forms of the game looks ridiculous. More worryingly, his joie de vivre and self-confidence look shattered, perhaps irrevocably. Sajid Mahmood’s woefully erratic bowling, coupled with his laissez-faire attitude and the fundamental mistakes still present in his game – like putting his hand over the ball – are testament to England’s selection policy. Too often, players learn their trade on the international stage; meanwhile, individualism is coached out of them, meaning mavericks like a Lasith Malinga or a Sanath Jayasuriya are increasingly rare.
England were unlucky with injuries, but their continually baffling selection certainly didn’t help. Over the last three years, they have moved aimlessly from one one-day humiliation to the next. Though it is true that England could have had a reasonable World Cup side, had players in form two years ago remained fit and firing – Trescothick, Vaughan, Strauss, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff, G.Jones, Giles, S.Jones, Harmison, Anderson – the selectors are at fault for developing no sort of coherent plan to develop others. Selections were haphazard, with the county circuit’s best English one-day batsman, Mal Loye, continually ignored, and perhaps the second best, Owais Shah, given just three games. They deserve credit for picking Ravi Bopara, and, to some extent, Paul Nixon, but not for “hunches” Bresnan, Ali, Loudon, Yardy et al.
The administrators are culpable too – for allowing a schedule which flogs their players mercilessly into the ground, and sees the World Cup directly after the Ashes tour. Basic flaws, typically, remain unadressed: there are still no Powerplays in domestic one-day cricket. In short, there was no structure in place for one-day success; all hopes were pinned on the freakish CB Series triumph and the idiosyncratic genius of Kevin Pietersen – not coincidentally, a player who learned his trade away from the age group system. England have, remarkably and astoundingly, won just one ODI series out of their last 12. Success in the World Cup would have concealed that. Only after an unmitigated shambles of a winter is there hope for a brighter future.