England cricket news
It’s always faintly harrowing when England select a leg-spinner. The way they’re treated tends to be geared towards absolute decimation of their confidence. Adil Rashid himself has benefited from this once before.
Eight years ago, we promised Rashid that we’d always be nice to him – even if he got bowled by an Andrew Hall straight one – and we’ve stuck by that promise, selecting him as ‘one to watch’ pretty much every year since. We therefore deem today’s Test call-up ‘a good thing’.
Even though there’s every chance the scrutiny and unfair expectations will ruin him for another four years, we have to hope that this time Rashid will overcome barren growing conditions and reveal himself to be a resilient and hugely valuable cricketer. Have to, you hear. Have to.
Trotty’s back too. That is also ace.19 Appeals
We’ve written about just what a monumental achievement it was for England to get knocked out in the group stages. The more we think about it, the more we’re impressed at how they managed to prevent even one cylinder from firing.
There is talk that Paul Downton may get the boot. We’re inclined to say that he had the greatest negative influence of anyone involved. It wasn’t the sacking of a player that was the issue per se, but the ramifications of that on the team.
The situation led to Downton making a series of preposterous pronouncements on behalf of Alastair Cook and Peter Moores. Intended as props to support them at a difficult time, these statements instead became sticks with which to beat them. The Test captain and coach have been tarred by association, perceived as beneficiaries of some weird quasi-nepotistic approach to man management that defines England’s failing ‘new era’.
This is Downton’s fault – primarily, at least. As the public face of the management team, he has shown laughable aptitude for public relations and this alone means he isn’t really qualified for the job. It’s almost as if he’s spent the last 20 years ‘outside cricket’, working in a bank.
It will be interesting to see how national selector James Whitaker comes out of this as well. The word is he will keep his job and while it’s simplistic to blame a selector for the ills of the national side, we’re struck that he took over following an Ashes victory and immediately before an Ashes defeat and has now overseen two humiliating tournament exits in little more than a year.
Selectors are hard to appraise. It’s partly about picking the right players and it’s partly about timely selection and omission and the impact this has on the individuals in question as well as the team as a whole. Good selections have certainly been made, but England’s choice of pace bowlers for the 2013-14 Ashes was bizarre and ill-informed while few could argue that booting the one-day captain a few months before the World Cup was optimal – particularly as it resulted in further slicing and dicing of the team off the back of that.
Hindsight is of course a great tool when looking back on these things, but Whitaker’s predecessor as national selector, Geoff Miller, seemed to have a happy knack for predicting what would eventually be seen through its lens.21 Appeals
Guardian writer Toby Chasseaud provided us with a shocking revelation the other day. In 1987-88, of the 13 players who represented England on a tour of Pakistan, only one had attended a private school.
Did that really happen? Was that really the way things once were?
We don’t want to get all class war about this. It’s not that there’s any real difference between the two types of person. We know both normal, state-educated citizens and overprivileged public school toffs who’ve had everything handed to them on a plate, and we get along perfectly well with both groups. Just because the latter swan about above and disconnected from any sort of meritocracy doesn’t mean there isn’t a tiny shred of decency deep within the blackened souls of at least a handful of them.
It’s not about that. It’s about balance. It’s about having a representative England cricket team, which means having both groups playing alongside the kind of hard-working immigrant who is also a major part of the English (and Welsh) society in which we live. If nothing else, diversity makes for a better team.
People see the England team and they increasingly believe that cricket is a sport that’s only ever been played in public schools. (For the benefit of overseas readers: public = private in England – go figure.) The effect is compounded by the bizarre obsessions of the equally public school cricket media, who are forever referring to so-and-so’s upbringing at such-and-such-a-school as if that means the faintest bloody thing to any of us.
Not so long ago, we played a game with Special Correspondent Dad ‘name an English state school international cricketer’. We came up with Ravi Bopara.
We initially thought that Alex Hales was another (almost solely on the basis that he’s a bit laddish on Twitter), but he’s not. Jimmy Anderson was someone we inexplicably overlooked and we’ve just checked and James Tredwell is another. You can probably come up with others, but there aren’t many.
The simple reason for this is that there isn’t really any state school cricket any more. Nor is there much cricket on telly. What was once a brutal sport for everyone is fast becoming little more than a genteel pastime for the upper classes, like opera.
For those of us who already like cricket but move in circles where it is entirely unacceptable to like opera, this is a very worrying development indeed. It’s striking to think that once upon a time the situation was different and that perhaps, just perhaps, things needn’t be this way.56 Appeals
We’ve never been a huge fan of the phrase ‘more than one way to skin a cat’. Cats are decent sorts and while yours would happily eat you if you were dead, that doesn’t mean he wishes you harm – it merely reflects his no-nonsense attitude to the difference between life and death.
We therefore propose the alternative, animal-friendly phrase ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai’.
For those who’ve never had the pleasure of imbibing the outrageously sweet, spiced Indian tea, it tends to be made with condensed milk which forms a skin as it cools. You can pinch it off, spoon it off, stir it in or whatever. Point is, there’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai.
Which obviously brings us to the subject of winning 50-over cricket matches.
The bulletproof bunker of the critic
Over the last day or so, we’ve been struck by some of the criticisms levelled at the England team with regards to the way they go about putting together a total. Observing that some teams are putting on 150 in the last 10 overs, people are saying that England are behind the times; that they need to heed the lessons of AB de Villiers’ approach to batting.
However, South Africans will tell you that the key lesson to take from AB de Villiers’ batting is Hashim Amla. When Amla (or someone else in the top order, but usually Amla) lays a decent foundation, de Villiers goes mental, mental, chicken oriental. When he doesn’t get that platform, there’s a soupcon more sanity to his batting.
South Africa actually tend to take a conservative approach at the start of their innings. Against Zimbabwe, they made 28 in the first 10 overs; against India, 36; against West Indies, 30; and against Pakistan, 35. This is their strategy. It is their way of skinning the chai.
In contrast, New Zealand – another forward-thinking side who apparently ‘get’ one-day cricket – open with Brendon McCullum, who delivers mental, mental chicken oriental from the outset. They then consolidate a bit (or scrabble to the miniature target that their bowlers have gifted them for the loss of most of their wickets).
Point is, when pundits criticise England by saying: “Look at McCullum, look at de Villiers,” they rather overlook the fact that these players play for different sides. Different sides who skin chai in different ways.
But England just leave the skin on
Entirely true. This isn’t meant to be a defence of England, but criticism of the critics.
A couple of years ago, back when they were winning fairly regularly, England were being heavily criticised for trying to ‘build a platform’ when batting in one-day internationals.
“They’re out of touch. The game’s moved on,” people said. But was that approach really so different to the one being employed by South Africa at the moment?
If there’s a difference, it’s in the volume of runs scored at the death. With Morgan, Bopara and Buttler lining up one after another, England arguably had the personnel to do the job, but on English pitches and presented with platforms of variable quality, it didn’t always happen.
Then again, it wasn’t really happening for South Africa either back then. In 2013, they won 14 of their 29 matches and were thrashed in the Champions Trophy semi-final by none other than England.
South Africa aren’t exactly setting this World Cup alight, you know?
That’s not really the point we’re making. We’re not saying that theirs is the best approach. We’re saying at least they have conviction. Whether it’s right or wrong, South Africa have spent the last two years refining their approach and now they can test it out properly.
By contrast, England lost faith in their blueprint and tried to copy everyone else’s. Not someone else’s – everyone else’s. Alex Hales is their Brendon McCullum, Jos Buttler is their AB de Villiers and they also want all Australia’s fast bowlers, all of the mystery spinners who aren’t even at the tournament, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Except James Tredwell. No-one quite knows why, but they don’t want him.
Know yourself, fool
When England have a platform-building batting line-up, they want an explosive top order. When they have an explosive top order and it implodes, they lament the lack of firepower further down. They don’t know what they want and because they keep losing, they persist in this belief that everyone else knows the secret to one-day cricket and they somehow need to copy them.
But you copy someone else and at best all you’ll end up with is a slightly inferior version of what they’ve got. England have now made so many photocopies (remember them) that the ink’s running low and the prints are coming out paler than ever before.
If you don’t know your own game, how do you judge it? A par score after 20 overs might be 110, but that might be because it’s 80 for South Africa and 140 for India. They have different pacing strategies. If you’ve got 110 after 20 overs, what does that mean for you? And what does it mean for your team’s approach from then on? This is half the problem with England’s batting. They fail to correctly-balance risk and reward because they don’t where they’re up to.
There’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai
Alastair Cook probably is too limited to be a truly effective one-day batsman, but that doesn’t mean that you tear up the solid platform approach and replace it with the all-guns-blazing approach. You just need to find a better batsman and maybe hone your approach rather than binning it. Show some conviction.
When it comes to one-day cricket, England need to learn that they’re not missing out on some magic formula. There’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai.21 Appeals
A lot of people – seemingly a majority – are saying that Peter Moores ‘has to go’. There is probably some truth in this because the pressure and scrutiny he will be subjected to should he be allowed to remain would most likely be crushing for the team. However, we also feel that England’s World Cup performance is to a great extent not his fault.
When Moores became coach, he inherited a captain who had been not so much named as anointed. The post-Ashes shitfight had seen the ECB nail their colours to the mast, set up a protective barrier around it and then launch a fleet of fighter jets to patrol the area.
Alastair Cook was England’s one-day captain and if Peter Moores didn’t agree, there was, quite frankly, nothing he could do about it. A coach should be confident and single-minded, but an England coach also has to survive. Undermining the ECB would not have been the way to achieve this.
Even if he didn’t at first, Moores will surely have grown desperate to drop Cook from the one-day side as he desperately tried to lay paving slabs around that one dead tree stump. Had it been uprooted sooner, maybe he would have had a chance to prepare the ground better, but he never got that chance and valuable stones were broken in the meantime.
Moores had to build a 10-man team to compete against 11 and the more he tried to work around Cook’s shortcomings, the more damage was done to those moved around to accommodate him. It wasn’t just the matches Alex Hales didn’t play or the omissions Ian Bell shouldn’t have had to endure; it was also the defeats.
England lost and when you lose, you react. Confidence ebbs and you make changes. England made so many changes that by the time they got rid of the one thing that was definitely wrong – Cook – half of what surrounded it had become wrong as well and there was no time to put things right.
So maybe Peter Moores does have to go. But he also has our sympathy. This was his lot and he did what he could with it. As pathetically as things turned out, and as ridiculous as this sounds, given the same set of circumstances we can’t imagine anyone else would have done much better.29 Appeals
Five different four-year plans in every World Cup cycle – the illusion of stability in English cricket
After six months of solid one-day cricket, England started the World Cup with a different side. Chris Woakes had been opening the bowling and doing well – he came on first change. Gary Ballance hadn’t played one-day cricket for six months – he came in at number three. James Taylor had been making a decent fist of batting at three – he came in at six.
As well as making a mockery of all the months of World Cup preparation the team had enjoyed, the most striking theme of these changes is that they ‘fixed’ things that didn’t need fixing.
You need long-term plans, but you can’t be beholden to them. Ballance at three makes sense, but if he hasn’t actually been playing cricket and you appear to have fluked a decent number three in the meantime in the form of Taylor, then Taylor becomes Plan A. Similarly, Stuart Broad may well be your first-choice opening bowler, but if he’s had surgery and seems a shadow of his former self, you have to respond to what’s in front of you.
Maybe it’s a labels thing. Maybe the stats program associates data with a name without recognising that the person bearing that name doesn’t always remain a constant. People say England play like robots, but the point is that they really, really don’t and so treating them that way makes no sense.
It’s not really about picking the right players
It’s not even about giving them the right roles within the team. It’s that there’s a way of managing a team. People think that you can pick explosive cricketers and tell them to play with freedom, but that sort of self-expression thrives best in a stable environment.
A lot of people will point at Peter Moores as being guilty of that mismanagement, but is that really fair? England also lost to Bangladesh in the last World Cup and here’s what we wrote this time last year when the Netherlands beat England in the World T20.
“The will to win will always triumph when pitted against a fear of failure,” is one line from that piece and that’s the thing – England’s tournament performances are always absolutely shot-through with a fear of failure.
It’s the culture
It’s not the culture. People say it’s the culture of English cricket, but it’s not. England produces plenty of liberated attacking cricketers. Nor is it the fault of the head coach really. Whoever that is tends to know the value of playing ‘no fear’ cricket. It’s just that they invariably inherit an environment where producing such a thing is almost an impossibility.
There’s an illusion of stability in the way the England cricket team is managed. There are reviews, there are plans and then there’s another revolution. The fear of change and the desire for stability leads to a stubborn marriage to whatever overarching plan is currently considered ‘correct’. There’s intransigence where there should be flexibility and then overreaction when there should be moderation.
Think of it like the moving of tectonic plates. In most cricket nations, they slide. They’re never static, but nor is there much drama. In England, the plate sticks, the pressure builds and then it suddenly lurches forward causing a huge earthquake.
Imagine you’re playing for England
Good cricket requires conviction. The blessed few have this in abundance, no matter what the circumstances, but most rational humans require evidence on which to build their self-confidence. Practice makes perfect and the more times you’ve done something, the more confident you will be that you can perform the task in question.
Today’s England number three was playing his eighth one-day international. The guy he replaced had just played his 16th. The guy he replaced had played 11 one-dayers when he was moved down the order.
Kumar Sangakkara has played 402 one-day internationals and 236 of them at three. In the last two years, he has batted in no other position because he has been looking to practise and perfect his role. You might think that is an unfair comparison, but the point is that even Kumar Sangakkara needs steady, consistent preparation.
It’s not just number three either. This was the 20th time that Moeen Ali had opened the batting in a one-day international and if Ian Bell seems like he’s been the opener for a while, he was out of the side as recently as December.
The Bell example is another good one
People typically have one of two major gripes about Bell right now. One, that he’s too lumpen to open the batting in one-day internationals; or two, that he’s inexplicably playing in lumpen fashion when opening the batting in one-day internationals despite having it in him to play more expansively.
On the face of it, Bell as opener in this World Cup is a ‘plan’. But looked at more closely, they gave him a nice long run-up and then tried to trip him up at the last minute. Having performed well as opener for a couple of years, they shunted him to three last summer and then dropped him after two failures. They brought him back in Sri Lanka – again at three – and then dropped him after one failure and a run-a-ball 35.
Bell is England’s senior one-day batsman – far more experienced than anyone else – and management somehow managed to make him fearful and uncertain of his place in the side just in time for a World Cup. That is quite an achievement. Put him in a team with 10 other people feeling much the same way, add the threat of World Cup elimination, stir in the potential humiliation of losing to Bangladesh and serve. Delicious.
Who’s to blame?
The players are at the pointy-end of a mighty wedge of chaos that is driven into every major world tournament.
Do you blame the cricketers for playing with a fear of failure when they’re inexperienced or undermined and part of a side that’s been cobbled together through luck as much as judgement?
Do you blame the coaching team who inherited a floundering one-day side captained by a Test batsman who shouldn’t have been playing but couldn’t be sacked? After all, they’ve had to cobble together a side in a short space of time after said captain was finally removed within months of the World Cup.
Or do you blame the administrators who make at least five different four-year plans in every four-year cycle – one after each Ashes series, one after each World T20 and one after each World Cup?
They wouldn’t need to do this if England were successful, of course, but where are all the stalwarts on whom that last plan depended? Where’s Pietersen? Where’s Trott? Where’s Bresnan? Where’s Swann? And why do Anderson, Broad, Finn, Morgan and Bopara now seem like wishy-washy watercolour paintings of their former selves?
It’s not that England have problems at World Cups. It’s just that World Cups are when tension and pressure are the greatest and when conviction, self-confidence and experience become most valuable. World Cups are simply where England’s perennial problems come to a head.32 Appeals
You probably have something to say about England getting bundled out of the World Cup by Bangladesh’s seam bowlers. You can leave your thoughts in the comments of this article while we keep ourself busy writing some sort of… actually, we’re not too sure what you’d call it.
To quote absolutely everyone: they moved the Ashes for this?34 Appeals
Much as we enjoy writing about administrative staff, what they think and what they may or may not have meant when they said something in an interview, we rather feel that the World Cup is a time for writing about actual cricket.
Colin Graves has said some things, the ECB have said some different things in faceless, Borg-like fashion and Kevin Pietersen has expressed enthusiasm, as he is wont to do. While all of this may amount to something one day, it isn’t all that meaningful right now. A whole bunch of things would have to happen in the correct sequence before there could be any impact on a cricket match and lest anyone forget, cricket is about cricket matches.
Cricket-wise, South Africa’s huge score against Ireland changes nothing in our eyes. They have a couple of exceptional batsmen, some middling ones and a long tail. We still think they’re vulnerable.
Pakistan play the UAE tonight and could, quite honestly, lose. We say this only because they appear to be even worse than England and England certainly seem in the market for a mugging; ambling about the dangerous part of town with a bulging wallet tucked precariously in a back pocket.
In the other match, Australia play Afghanistan. There shouldn’t be an upset there, but it could provide some exceptionally entertaining moments.16 Appeals
In a run-chase, pressure doesn’t just come from the bowling you face. It comes from the relationship between the bowling you face and the runs you need. We haven’t yet seen England’s defence of 310, but our initial feeling is that Eoin Morgan’s belief that the bowlers were at fault for the loss to Sri Lanka is simplistic.
We saw England bat. We saw a classic one-day finish preceded by a stumblesome plateau. 28 runs were scored in 10 overs and while you do get these lulls even in these modern high-scoring days, it seemed unjustifiably quiet. Nothing happened against Angelo Mathews and Tillakaratne Dilshan for whom bowling is a secondary skill.
If Morgan himself came to the party, he arrived with an apology. He wasn’t drinking because he had work in the morning and he was really sorry but he’d also have to leave quite early. He stood in the corner for an hour, spoke to no-one and then left with 27 runs off 47 balls. It was so pointless you wonder whether England would have been any worse off if Chris Woakes had come in at five. At least Morgan could have a go at the slogging for which he is renowned if he batted at eight.
Root, Taylor and particularly Buttler engineered a strong finish and then it was over to the bowlers, but it didn’t seem to be a day for the 85mph right-arm seam bowling basket. Moeen Ali took the only wicket and was also the most economical bowler.
Referring to his attack, Morgan said: “When we are firing we are predictably good.” We felt sure he was about to follow this up with ‘but when we aren’t we are predictably bad’. He could also have gone for ‘predictable and bad’ but he opted for neither. Instead he bemoaned ‘one bad ball every couple of overs’.
Maybe he’s right – it certainly sounds like England could have fielded better – but maybe England should have made 20 or 30 runs more. Maybe that would have allowed more bad balls. Maybe that would have helped the required run-rate rise.
Or maybe it’s all an irrelevance. Maybe England could have got absolutely everything exactly right throughout this World Cup – captain, batting line-up, bowlers, ‘execution’ – and still not won it.30 Appeals
At the start of the tournament, we highlighted a weakness of South Africa’s – the fact that their batting order “quite quickly becomes a little bit Farhaan Behardien”. This weekend, it just as quickly became a little bit Wayne Parnell. That’s a long tail.
South Africa’s best batsmen are so good it rather distracts from the fact that their batting as a whole isn’t quite so all-conquering. If you can find a way to dispatch Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, they’re a surprisingly vulnerable side. But how exactly do you get rid of those pair? Well, in de Villiers’ own words: “You feel the pressure chasing 300 plus so you take on shots that you might not normally take on and you go for second runs you might not normally go for.”
It’s what was once known as ‘scoreboard pressure’ before that phrase came to mean little more than ‘a big score’. The two aren’t the same. Sometimes chasing 300 is easy. Sometimes chasing 250 is hard. You only really feel the pressure when you’re chasing a score that is – and we hate ourself for saying this – above par.
Chasing 300 is also a great deal easier when your best batsmen are in during the final 10 overs. This period of the game appears to have become disproportionately influential in one-day cricket since the introduction of two new balls and the changes to fielding restrictions with teams routinely scoring at 10, 12, even 15 an over.
Against Zimbabwe, South Africa made 28 in the first 10 overs of the match and 146 in the last 10. That puts a lot of emphasis on what commentators call ‘the back end of the innings’ (and which we will therefore refer to as being ‘the arse of the innings’).
In that instance, it was David Miller and JP Duminy, numbers five and number six, doing the damage. However, it wouldn’t have worked out quite the same if they’d entered that period with Wayne Parnell at the crease (Farhaan Behardien was actually number seven in that game, but you get what we’re saying). You could even argue that just one extra wicket in the first 40 overs of the game could have cost almost 100 runs.
One of the odd things about the arse of the innings being so significant is that it is leading a lot of teams to pick five specialist bowlers, rather than relying on part-timers. This means that it’s often the number seven and number eight batsmen who are making way for out-and-out bowlers – in short, the very people who are highly likely to find themselves at the crease in the final 10 overs. This exaggerates things further.
India find themselves in a slightly odd position in that they have two strong lower order batsmen in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin who are both spinners. If they can keep them in the team, the batsmen have a nice safety blanket. But without them, you could excuse a few jitters and it’s possible the top order might play more conservatively to ensure the right men are around for the arse of the innings.
Australia, bizarrely, have gone the opposite way to a lot of teams and picked great swathes of batsmen-who-bowl and bowlers-who-bat. Sometimes it’s just good fortune that their best bowlers are also decent batsmen (Mitchells Johnson and Starc) and that their best batsmen also bowl (Steve Smith) but they’ve also been keen to play all-rounders like James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh. The upshot is that while their top order isn’t quite so spectacular, it never really ends, so there’ll always be someone to exploit the arse (of the innings).
England’s latest match, against Scotland, was also an arse tale (as opposed to an arse tail). In a World Cup in which a three figure score from the last 10 overs is pretty much standard, they hobbled from 130-0 after 30 overs to 303-8 in 50. Basically, they scored in 20 overs not much more than a lot of sides would have been aiming for in 10.33 Appeals