Tuesday, 17 April 2007

What a shambles

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.


allrounder said...

Certainly this is a low - although I'm inclined to write off the Ashes series more readily as a blip (Australia were immense, frankly).

On the One Day front, it's true to say that the selection process has appeared akin to some sort of crude county cricket tombola. Despite the patina of preparation - I can't recall how long we've been planning for this World Cup now - it is plain to see that there is still no consensus about the line-up, tactics or even mentality of the team.

I never really understood why Vaughan was made Captain, other than to coach him for the Test role. His personal record is abysmal for such an accomplished batsman.

However, his tenure has perhaps been an unfortunate one. It became clear, I think, against South Africa, that our best players are simply not skilful enough when it comes to the limited overs form of the game. The 'build a platform' strategy (highest opening partnership, other than the 100 against Canada: 12) was perhaps less as a decision of intent than one of necessity. Unfortunately, in this case necessity refused to mother any invention.

Time and again Englishmen hit orthodox strokes straight at a fielder. Even KP, undoubtedly our star performer, and Ravi Bopara, whose approach was bright, did this repeatedly. Although Paul Nixon is a somewhat doddering embodiment of improvisation, his hand has been repeatedly forced by top order ineptitude. Added to this, our penetration with the ball has been equally woeful.

Though I clung to every last scrap of hope, a CWC semi-final place would ultimately have been a massive injustice; I think even to have beaten Sri Lanka two weeks ago would have constituted some kind of wrong. We've got so much right in the Test arena under Fletcher, that he should be allowed to depart with no small amount of pride - but certainly a bright new ODI dawn needs to break across Albion soon.

Tim said...

Cheers allrounder. I agree a semi-final place would have been an injustice. If truth be known, Fletcher has been a terrible ODI coach. Even if he stays as Test coach, England surely need a new ODI coach to bring fresh ideas.

allrounder said...

Agreed. When have we looked coherent in ODIs in the last decade? I think it's been easy to overlook Fletch's shortcomings here because of Test success - but surely the ECB will look at options now.

Chrispy said...

Two huge problems:

C&G restructuring: Group stages resulted in teams resting players and them not gaining experience.

Pro40: Erm, the point of playing 40 rather than 50 is? No wonder we can't bat 50 overs!

Good point on powerplays Tim. Also a huge problem is that other than ODI's English players just dont play T20 or domestic one day cricket. It is no surprise that Bopara did so well probably having played more domestic one day and T20 games in the last year than half the team have in 5. We need unorthodxy and power, the complete antithesis to what is required in the Test arena.

And who says the Test cricketers (Vaughan, Strauss, Bell, ect) must play ODI's. Just 18 months ago, Hussey, Symonds, Watson, Hogg, Tait, Bracken were not playing tests, half the Aussie ODI side!