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.