Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Feeble England make Mascarenhas into a demi-God

The first thrashing was unexpected but far from shocking: England began their ODI tour of Sri Lanka with a similar shocker, and still won the series. Today's 10-wicket humbling, however, was something else. It is amazing how a side who recorded two consecutive series victories can appear so inadequate and hopeless, lacking in the most basic cricketing skills. For all the talk of England's revival as a one-day side under Paul Collingwood, which seemed palpable only four days ago, there are deep problems with the side.

Phil Mustard is still yet to pass 30 in seven ODI innings, but there are some signs of encouragement in his opening partnership with the contrasting Alastair Cook; 41 in 5.5 overs today is the sort of opening stand England too seldom enjoy. Patently, the problems exist beneath them, in the middle-order previously regarded as one of England's strengths.

With 420 runs at an average of 70 and strike-rate of 90 in the series with India, Ian Bell appeared to be maturing into a very fine one-day number three, capable of dictating the tempo of England's innings and possessing new-found assertiveness. Well, rubbish to all that. Bell has not reached 50 in 11 ODIs (plus two Twenty20 games) and seemingly lacks a coherent gameplan. So much time has been invested in him; and he has promised so much. There is no conceivable alternative at number three for the remainder of this series; but, if he cannot avert his slump with some intelligently constructed knocks soon, he will have to be replaced. Credible alternatives are dificult to find, however.

Kevin Pietersen, once the best one-day international batsman in the world, is undeniably facing the first major slump of his career. He is losing some of his aura following a poor run, as he has succumbed to opposition plans and, on occasions, the fallibility of his concentration. England need him back to his best soon; Pietersen must pay the opposition the respect they deserve and there were fleeting signs of that today. Owais Shah, meanwhile, is still a man who offers much to the side even if he was guilty of serious misjudgements between the wickets in the first game. It would be hard to say the same for Ravi Bopara, however. Over-hyped following a fine innings in the World Cup in which he nonetheless faltered when it mattered most, he has only made one contribution of note since and, following a nightmarish debut Test series, both his technique and mind would clearly benefit from a break.

Replacing him must be Dimi Mascarenhas, who should never have been dropped following the Twenty20s, as many others have said. He is becoming a better player with every game he misses, though, and he will not solve England's ODI problems at a stroke. It is hard to overly judge the bowling after the limp batting displays, but James Anderson, whose control of line and length is astoundingly unreliable, should perhaps be replaced with Chris Tremlett, even if there would be a feeling of 'change for change's sake'.

What is undeniable is England have been utterly inept in their opening two games. Their batting is bereft of a discernible game-plan, too prone to brainless run-outs and collapses, simultaneously lacking assertiveness and caution. Give or take the odd selection, this is more-or-less the best side England have. That is perhaps most worrying of all.


Ben Rigby said...

Great piece Tim. I agree with everything that you say. Afterall I sais as much in my piece in my blog. I was thinking of putting it on here but it is too like yours. Just not nearly as well written. Still check it out though.

Chrispy said...

Agreed, Masca will not solve all the problems and just like anyone else who isn't playing, his stock has risen, see Read, Mustard, Harmison, Flintoff (who has hardly been a talisman lately when he has played). He deserves the spot though on merit and I just hope his confidence and form haven't both tailed off.

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