Wednesday, April 18, 2007

World Cup fallout

It's taken five long weeks to confirm what many, if not all, of us suspected: England are not very good at ODI cricket and will not make the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Five weeks! Hell's teeth, after a couple of games the writing was pretty much on the wall. And that's a problem with the World Cup in general. It's just too long. More of that at the denoument of the whole tournament, still two weeks away.
For now, the focus must be on England and what the hell happened. Well, nothing that wasn't to be expected if you take a look back in time.
Duncan Fletcher has been a brilliant Test cricket coach for England. We were 8th in the Test rankings and he's pulled us up to 2nd, a spot we still hold even after the Ashes debacle. We were 8th in the ODI rankings and had come off the back of a miserable World Cup campaign at home in 1999. Another miserable World Cup campaign followed in 2003 in South Africa and again this year. We are now 7th in the ODI rankings, thanks mainly to the West Indies being in even more disarray than England are.
The Ashes defeat over the winter was brutal. Australia were hurting big-time after the defeat in England in 2005 and resovled to do something about it. Meanwhile, England were on an open-top bus tour round London. Australia didn't just beat England a few months ago - they ripped every single player to shreds. The subsequent ODI series started badly, but England managed to win it! Happys days? Not a bit of it. It should have been a massive confidence boost going towards the World Cup, but it wasn't that straightforward. The performances were still reliant on too few players - namely the batting of Paul Collingwood who found a rich vein of form and Liam Plunkett's reverse swing bowling. The cracks were being papered over.
This is looking back too soon as well. England last made any sort of impact on the World Cup in 1992, reaching the final. Even that was tinged with luck as they were the beneficiaries of South Africa's now traditional dramatic failure in the semi-final. Even so, they were a handy ODI side then. In the World Cups of 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007, England have beaten the sum total of THREE Test ranked sides - Sri Lanka in 1999, Pakistan (under lights) in 2003 and Bangladesh in 2007. That is it. So how does such a feeble side get to a position where one win could have got them to the semi-finals? Well that's the tournament structure for you. India and Pakistan both blew out early with Bangladesh and Ireland benefitting, so there go two fancied sides. South Africa were trying very hard to stuff it all up yet again and their loss to Bangladesh (they really are a success story in this World Cup) gave the chasing pack something to aim at while the top three (Australia, inevitably, the workmanlike New Zealand and the classy Sri Lanka) rolled serenely on. But given England's poor showing against top sides - and South Africa were up until that Bangladesh defeat the number one side in the world - it's difficult to see why anyone should have given them a prayer. And so it proved. In a must-win game, England batted atrociously. No runs at all from the first two overs. 20 balls for the woefully out-of-form captain Michael Vaughan to get off the mark. Shaun Pollock's pitch map was wonderful - everything on a length and on off-stump. England slumped to 154 all out in a manner only England seem capable of. South Africa came out and the ball started disappearing to all corners of the Kensington Oval. Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers had taken the game totally away from England inside 5 overs. The pitch map of England's opening bowlers - Sajid Mahmood and Jimmy Anderson - couldn't be more different to Pollock's. They were all over the place and Mahmood in particular got the treatment, going for over 60 in just 6 overs. Finally, England were out.

So what next? After the 2003 World Cup, there was plenty of talk about building for 2007. This simply didn't happen as the ODI side is chopped and changed on a whim with no continuity. It is and always has been second fiddle to the Test side. Yes, the Test side's fortunes needed restoring, but you don't win World Cups with Test sides. The ODI side has needed major surgery since the end of the 1992 campaign and it never got it. Still hasn't. It must get it now. Build for 2011, so chuck out anyone unlikely to be around for that. Invest faith in youth - Stuart Broad, Alistair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Niall O'Brien (the Ireland wicketkeeper/batsman who has impressed in this tournament and now qualifies for England) players like that. Add Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff to those and you're on your way. Flintoff has been a big let down, but he's too big a talent to discard, even if he never finds his batting form again. The captaincy has to change hands. Michael Vaughan is not an ODI player, and certainly not an ODI opener. Sanath Jayasuriya changed the face of modern 50-over cricket in 1996, exploiting the fielding restrictions with classy, powerful hitting. Vaughan cannot do that job. He's played close to 100 ODIs, all up the top of the order, and has yet to hit three figures. He's an excellent captain, but he can't be carried. And I don't say this lightly, as he's a lovely bloke and a quite exquisite Test player. I'm not a fan of splitting the captaincy. I think the Test man should do the ODI job and vice versa. However, I don't see any ready candidate to do both. I think Alistair Cook will be a fine captain, but he's inexperienced right now. If he can be brought on under Vaughan in the Test arena and Collingwood in the ODIs, I believe he can make a fine captain in a couple of years time - in plenty of time before 2011 and the World Cup on the sub-continent.
The top order has to have a different, modern approach to the game. Jayasuriya retired from international cricket about a year ago. He was coaxed out of retirement while Sri Lanka were in England as they were struggling for an opener. Since then, he has hit the same number of ODI hundreds that England's top four have in their combined careers to date. That isn't good enough, and then you factor in how he goes about compiling those scores. See also Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers in the most recent game. There are 20 overs of fielding restrictions in the game these days and England simply do not use them. They don't even try. It's like watching the sides of 1975 and 1979 play, with Boycott resolutely blocking everything as though it was session 1, day 1 of a Test. The attitude has to change and that comes from the man at the top.
Fletcher has done a fine job - I've said that already - but I believe he's reached the end of the line. It's time for a fresh individual to come in with fresh ideas and no existing loyalties to any player. I'd love it to be Tom Moody, currently in charge of the Sri Lankan side. The main problem is England's schedule. Due to the vagaries of geography, our summer is out of whack with every other cricket nation, so we have just two weeks after the end of the World Cup before the domestic summer kicks off. And with the ECB keen to earn as much as possible, it's a summer packed with cricket. Seven Tests, umpteen ODIs and Twenty20s. Compare with New Zealand who played just 20 ODIs and only two Tests in the 12 months preceding this World Cup. And see how well they look on it. So timing needs to be right, and I think that giving the process to appoint a new chap until the end of the domestic summer to bring in a new chap is pretty much as good as it can be, then the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in the autumn can be his first test.

Whatever happens, I don't want to be sat in front of a PC hammering away like this in four years time saying the same thing again. It was said in 1996. And in 1999. And in 2003. Please not 2011 again. It's getting to be like groundhog day.

1 comment:

Henry Bolingbroke said...

That is what I'd call a very angry big rant.

"It's taken five long weeks to confirm what many, if not all, of us suspected: England are not very good at ODI cricket and will not make the semi-finals of the World Cup."

I have doubts that many of this England team are very good at test cricket either.