England being shit at ODI cricket is as comfortably familiar as, well, England being shit at international football. It’s one of those certainties you feel that you can always rely on, along with faux morale outage at leaked nude celebrity pics (because who doesn’t want a gander at Jennifer Lawrence’s cha-chas?), David Warner making a dick of himself on twitter or Western politicians thinking half-arsed sanctions will cow Eastern European megalomaniacs. The world isn’t necessarily a better place for any of these (except for JLaw’s boobs of course), but it feels a more familiar and comfortable place for them all the same.
But are England really all that shit at ODI cricket? Are people getting a bit carried away accusing the team of following an approach to the one day game that went out of fashion with Woolly Mammoth shirts and matching sandals? George Dobell recently made the point that only a little while ago they were the number one ODI side and made the final of the Champions Trophy. So perhaps this recent form has just been a blip of some sort. Rather an elongated blip, but a blip nonetheless.
It’s tempting to suggest that the criticism of England’s approach to ODI cricket is simply a continuation of what has been a particularly acrimonious English summer. Tempting, but wrong. England’s approach to One Day cricket is outdated, and horribly flawed. Given Peter Moores’ rather dismal record in English domestic limited over cricket, it’s not terribly surprising either. Dobell’s claim that England were good a few years ago misses the point. Every other nation has since been ramping up their preparations for next year’s World Cup, whilst England have stood still, or even gone backwards.
Most major sides on the ODI circuit now play in a fairly similar style, one that Darren Lehmann has defined in terms of ‘velocity’. With the return to two new balls at the start of the innings, flying openings, ala Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, are now rare. Instead most teams begin fairly sedately, but build up speed as they progress. The old standard of launching during the final five or so overs has been discarded. Now most teams are launching with the second batting powerplay, somewhere around the 29 or 30 over mark.
Each team approaches this somewhat differently, but in essence the attitude is very similar. India, Sri Lanka and South Africa all carry a long tail, and are therefore more reliant on their middle order. As a result they sometimes take a little longer to ensure they have a solid foundation, before jumping on the accelerator. Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and the West Indies all bat much deeper, and therefore begin accelerating sooner, although with the associated risk of running out of wickets before the 50 overs are up. The use of pinch hitters, like Glenn Maxwell, to ensure that the fall of a wicket doesn’t lead to any critical loss of momentum, has become commonplace.
England don’t really play like this at all. Their build up is far slower, usually because it’s anchored by Alastair Cook, who rarely seems to score at a strike rate above 70 or so. And then there is often is a long period of consolidation in the middle order, historically performed by Jonathan Trott, but now by Ian Bell and Joe Root. The most explosive batsman in the team, Jos Buttler, is rarely elevated up the order, but kept till the death overs instead.
As many others have pointed out, this is not an approach that is likely to see England frequently post totals north of 300. For a side so enamored with the statistical side of the game, it actually appears an extremely risky one. If new boy Alex Hales at the top of the order, or Buttler at the back of it, don’t come off, England are often left 30 or 40 runs short of a good total.
The tendency to consolidate at the loss of a wicket, which has led to their becoming stymied by spin in the recent series against India, is ultimately flawed. These are the circumstances where a Buttler or Moeen Ali should be promoted up the order to ensure the run rate doesn’t begin to flag. Even if England manage to stem the flow of wickets, the loss of momentum means they’ll probably fail to post a properly competitive target in any case.
The promotion of Ali to number three in the final ODI against India indicated that England are at least trying to follow the example set by other nations, but also that they have no grasp of the basic fundamentals of what other teams are doing. It’s like Michael Bay trying to ape Francis Ford Coppola by adding a drawn out wedding scene to the next Transformers movie. Ali made most of his runs in the fourth ODI against the Indian spinners, so pushing him up to play the new ball was madness.
England clearly appreciate what other sides are doing, but instead of overhauling their own approach, they are trying to cherry pick what they feel fits with their gameplan, which results in a horrible mismatch of disjointed approaches. They seem to be completely unwilling to accept the risks adherent in a far more aggressive style of play. True, a team like Australia could implode and be bowled out for a sub-par total, as happened to them twice in their series in Zimbabwe, but if it fires it also sees them frequently post scores well in excess of 300. A total England haven’t a chance in hell of reaching in their current state.
It’s probably far too late in the game now for England to change tact ahead of the 2015 World Cup. The approach of the other nations requires a great deal of fine tuning to ensure the timing of the acceleration is just right; otherwise they run the risk of being knocked over early. England have the players to take this approach (Michael Lumb, James Taylor, Voldemort), but not enough time to properly integrate them into the setup. Instead they will probably just flounder through the World Cup, trying hard but looking thoroughly second-rate before heading home after the quarter-finals.
Like we said at the start, things just wouldn’t feel right if they didn’t.