How England tried to drink chai but found itself with the hot milky skin draped across its chin

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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.


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  1. Doesn’t this all just reflect badly on England’s management? I.e. that rather than trying to get a coherent strategy they just muddled around and chopped and changed the team….

    1. England’s management seems to be comprised mainly of people trying to justify their jobs.

      Everyone must contribute something for fear of contributing nothing and becoming unemployed. This means that instead of picking your 15 best players for the squad and then leaving 4 of those guys out for the match, every possible variable must be endlessly tinkered with.

  2. its very simple really

    1) the set batsman needs to carry on till 50 overs (Tendulkar, Hayden, Kohli, Sangakkara, Amla, Williamson etc)

    2) Others need to hit around them (Sehwag, Gilchrist, Dilshan, DeVilliers, McCullum etc)

    3) (FINISHER)
    additionally for high pressure chases you need somebody who can cut-down dotballs, stay till the end and absorb the pressure and finish off the match (Dhoni etc)

    4) (ALL-ROUNDER)
    all-rounder like Moeen give flexibility in bowling and batting attack which can be used to strengthen batting/bowling as necessary

    5) (5 proper bowlers)
    not many teams have this luxury. Pakistan have been forced to go this route because bowling (Irfan) is their strength and their batting is shit. England had Moeen…

    and finally
    6) (Settled captain & team)
    captain should get comfortable in team and strategies and start taking ownership (McCullum, Dhoni, Misbah, DeVilliers, Mathews etc)
    A settled captain usually results in a settled team, because captains try to maintain continuity and understand roles of current players in team

    England badly failed on captaincy front. I think the (relative) success in champions trophy at home has been a curse-in-disguise for England. Morgan should have been elevated to captaincy as soon as Cook was made test-captain.

    only exception here is Australia, but I think for all practical purposes Lehmann was running the show there. This raises the issue of single-point-accountability which was lacking in England/WI etc. Whereas in other teams Chief-selector/Team-Directors act as the single source of accountability, England seemed to be hiding under excuses such as positive atmosphere, data etc.

    1. I think we need a suitable euphemism for Hay**n. Just seeing his name brings to mind a mixture of queasiness (from what he does to the English language) and fear (from what he did to the English bowlers).

  3. There is also 1 more issue. The test match players didn’t have experience of domestic 50 over matches or alternatively players like Hales Taylor Balance who did well in domestic 50 overs should have been fast-tracked earlier and given a consistent run. The blame for not doing this should go to
    a) ecb for not focussing on LoI earlier and
    b) Andy Flower for not giving break to established guys and supporting new talent. case in point when KP wanted to retire from ODI they should have taken that opportunity to blood fresh talent instead of forcing him to play all formats

  4. I read the first part, got a yearning for a cup of Chai , fulfilled the desire. Of course, I had to start reading from beginning again, yearned again and drank Chai again and again.

    Now I am full of Chai, contented and feel like thanking the England team for the entertainment they have provided. And the deluge of articles generated as a result.

  5. You executed your skillsets perfectly here, KC. Your wordification of England’s lack of planning optimization to provide a cricketaining spectacle couldn’t be more perfect. Are you wearing any sort of cap right now? Because if you are, I’d like to point out that you are a true wearer of that cap you are wearing right now, much like the wearers of the same cap before you. Same colour, that is, not the same cap. That’d be disgusting.

  6. Step 1 – Select a set of players who are capable of reading a match situation and adapting their tactics to it instead of simply ploughing the same preselected furrow they got from the Tactics Sub-Committee meeting in November.

    Step 2 – Sack Paul Downton (this isn’t strictly related, but why not)

  7. I spent the evening pouring over the MCC Cricket Coaching Book (known colloquially as the MCC Coaching Manual).

    I regret to report that the technique referred to above, namely “mental, mental chicken oriental”, does not appear anywhere within the book.

    On that basis, surely the technique is in breach of the spirit of cricket and as such, all teams that have tried to deploy this sly – indeed let’s be frank, prohibited, technique, should be banished from the competition.

    Now let’s see, which teams have held back from the use of this method? England…

    …and perhaps also Scotland.

    So be it. Two teams remain in the competition and the winner wins the world cup.

    Just a second…

    …England have already played Scotland and won that match. World Cup awarded.

    Can we just check in with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to confirm this one, but I think it is a slam dunk.

    Well done, England, World Cup winners 2015.

    1. The CAS might take issue with you pouring over the MCC Coaching Manual rather than poring over it. Disgusting.

      Also, this website has finally eaten itself now that we’re the one delivering typo pedantry in the comments section.

    2. It’s right up there with the use of aluminium bats, pee-rollers, pirouettes on pitches during bomb scares and deliberate overstepping, for me.

    3. Actually, I really meant pouring. I thought this article was about tea, not books.

      Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough. Last night, in honour of KC’s chai-oriented piece, I had a massive tea pouring session. Here is a photo from a previous session to show you the magnitude:

      In order to protect the wooden surfaces in the flat, I used a copy of the MCC Cricket Coaching Book as a drip mat.

      Naturally I didn’t need to re-read the book (let alone pore over it) to report upon its contents – I pretty much know the thing by heart.

      In conclusion, I’d just like to thank King Cricket for this opportunity to put the facts straight.

      PS – I popped over to Lord’s this lunchtime, like you do. I can report that “the powers that be” are entirely with us on the matter of the mass disqualifications and awarding the World Cup to England. Only thing is, they like to mollify the colonials, so they are going to allow the rebel tournament (as now it is) to continue amongst the disqualified teams. This seems to me to be a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.

  8. Yes and yes… But also stop obsessing over what ever tactics you think would have been better, before you know it it will be 2019 and they’ll be eff all use to you(cue report/royal commission written by a committee chaired by an eminent player of the 80s – Trevor Jesty maybe – which will make recommendations on how to win the 2015 World Cup).

    1. All that practice England had at ignoring him when it came to Test selection in the 80s will come in handy when the Jesty Commission recommends a return to free to air TV and sacking Giles Clarke.

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