By David de Winter – Sports Editor
As Bangladesh seamer Rubel Hossain castled James Anderson, it put the final nail in England’s World Cup coffin. One win in five matches. They were completely thrashed against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, comprehensively outplayed against Bangladesh and their solitary victory, against the might of Scotland, wasn’t exactly convincing. To put this in context, this is English cricket’s lowest point since they were officially the worst cricket team in the world after defeat to New Zealand at the Oval in 1999.
For this, heads must roll. First and foremost the coach, Peter Moores, must be put under a lot of scrutiny. He and the selectors picked a squad that they thought had the best chance of victory. He prepares the team and it is his job to get the most out of the players at his disposal. England have had 5 months concentrating solely on one-day cricket – everything had been set up to maximise their chances of success. So how was it that they produced their worst performance ever at a World Cup?
Much has been written about Peter Moores by Graeme Swann, Anderson and of course Kevin Pietersen, and not always in the most flattering of terms. When he was re-hired as England coach it reeked of favouritism and conservatism. Here was a coach who had been successful for Lancashire, he was English, liked by the ECB – he ticked the boxes – a very English appointment. However, as much as England like to think they are the bastions of cricketing tradition, the game has moved on and it has been no more evident at the World Cup. South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Ireland, Sri Lanka – all these teams have been playing a completely different game, with the freedom to express themselves. England look like they have been playing in a straightjacket, devoid of any ingenuity or flair and much of that must fall on the shoulders of Moores.
For all intents and purposes, the 15 men down under are supposedly the 15 best one-day players available to England. If that is indeed the case then alarm bells should be ringing. Whilst England have been dogged by the ‘conservative’ tag for years in one-day cricket, chasing 276 against an allegedly inferior cricketing nation shouldn’t have been a problem. For years the powers that be in the English game have been preaching that keeping wickets in hand and batting patiently is the ‘English brand of cricket.’ If that is indeed the case, why, when all that was needed for victory against Bangladesh was to hit singles and twos, did England implode when they were 120-2 after 25 overs?
Nevertheless, the warning signs were there even before a ball had been bowled. The decision to select Gary Ballance at the crucial position of number three in the order against Australia in the opening match when he had played just one competitive innings since September was bizarre. Admittedly Ravi Bopara was in poor form, but why drop James Taylor down the order when he had been scoring runs at three? A number six should be a biffer, not a strokeplayer like Taylor.
Furthermore it was an enormous oversight not to select spinner James Tredwell. He might not have run through a team but he is a steady, accurate and tidy operator with an impressive ODI average of 27.81 and a respectable economy rate of 4.77. England’s attack was crying out for him when the four seamers were being flayed to all parts. A canny bowler like Tredwell would have taken pace off the ball and varied the flight. Instead England blindly persisted with a seam attack and ultimately paid the price.
It is symptomatic of England’s haphazard and clouded thinking that Eoin Morgan was thrust the captaincy only two months before the World Cup. Nevertheless he must at least shoulder part of the blame for the team’s diabolical performance, not least for his utterly abysmal batting. In all truth he should not have been handed the captaincy in the first place because he did not deserve his place in the side. 5 scores of 0 in his past 10 innings is all the evidence required.
His captaincy wasn’t bad – neither was it good. He was let down by some wayward bowling and substandard fielding but at no point in the entire tournament did England look like they had any fight, passion or belief in themselves. Surely it is Morgan’s prerogative to gee the players up and get them playing with a bit of fire in their bellies? He is certainly not the man to lead England long-term and his place in the team will be under serious jeopardy and rightly so.
In all honesty, the current England squad don’t have the skill-set required to play modern one-day cricket. From the 360 degree scoring chart of AB de Villiers to the bludgeoning power of Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum; from the accuracy and pace of Mitchell Starc to the guile of Imran Tahir, England’s players possess few of the required attributes to be successful in this format. The bowlers struggle to bowl to their fields and can’t seem to find yorkers at the death. The batsman are too one-paced and can’t accelerate when required.
I’m not necessarily saying the England team must be packed with crash-bang-wallop specialists like the West Indies. They might win one game in five like that but in reality it is not a sustainable long-term approach to success. The current squad has some quality batsmen like Ian Bell, Joe Root, Taylor and Jos Buttler. They just need a better balance within the team. Young, talented players who can clear the rope but also build an innings need to be given a chance like Surrey’s Jason Roy, Kent’s Sam Billings, James Vince of Hampshire. Thankfully these players alongside inconsistent all-rounder Ben Stokes (who didn’t deserve to be in the squad on the back of his performances in Sri Lanka) have not been tainted by the stain of an ignominious World Cup campaign and can take England forward.
Unfortunately the bowling is not looking quite so rosy. I would be surprised if James Anderson continues playing international one-day cricket after this tournament. He still has so much to offer in the test arena and it would be prudent to prolong his career in the 5 day game. This has been another chastening series for Stuart Broad who has returned wicketless figures in five of his last ten England appearances. His tournament haul of 3 wickets at an average of 78.66 are sorry figures. Chris Woakes has been expensive too. Steven Finn is worth persisting with because he takes wickets. He may have conceded 6.89 runs per over but he took a wicket every 21 balls at an average of 25.
There are a worrying lack of alternatives in the pace department. Chris Jordan and Harry Gurney have both had chances to stake their claim to be regulars but neither has convinced. Jack Brooks, Liam Plunkett and Boyd Rankin are options but none better than the current crop. What England have in Australia and New Zealand are the best at their disposal – a worrying reality.
So rather like the football team, England again flatter to deceive at a major tournament, going home with their tail firmly between their legs as the big boys head into the knockout stages. Nonetheless, again like the football team, maybe it is time that the public accepts that England aren’t as good as we, or the players, think they are. It has become glaringly apparent at this World Cup that England are a severely limited side, light-years behind the rest of the world in tactics, technique and mentality. In a way it is a good thing they have bowed out in such an embarrassing manner instead of limping to the quarter-finals and in the process papering over the cracks. This is the kick up the backside the coaching staff, the players and the ECB need to revamp the nation’s whole approach to one-day cricket.