Wednesday 22 February 2012

Have England learnt to play limited overs cricket?

England and ODI cricket are rather akin to politicians and honest expense claims; they rarely go together, are liable to embarrass and typically result in somebody getting the axe. Until now, that is.

From being perpetual whipping boys on the Indian sub-continent a mere three months ago, Captain Alastair Cook appears to have engineered a transformation that would earn a satisfied nod of approval from Optimus Prime himself.

Captain Cook - the right strategy
A cause for such a dramatic shift in the fortunes of this England ODI side is somewhat difficult to fathom; after all, it is almost the same set of players, and in similar conditions. Even more remarkable is the point that England entered the limited overs format on the back of a 3-0 hiding in the preceding Test series; an episode of cricket where each and every batsman appeared to be holding a HB pencil in place of a cricket bat, such was their ineptitude against the spin bowling of Pakistan.

Some will point to the fact that India are indeed world champions in the ODI format of the sport, in stark comparison to the middle of the road ranking currently held by Pakistan. Others will suggest that the absence of senior bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad throughout that forgettable tour drew England’s sting.

But what of strategy?

Much like Haile Gebrselassie deciding upon a whim to try and compete with Mr Bolt in the 100 metre sprint at the London Olympics, England have for years now attempted, rather fruitlessly, to adopt the philosophy of some of their adversaries when it comes to limited overs cricket. A new breed of big hitting opening batsmen, utilising brute strength to clear the in-field and indeed the boundary rope during the initial powerplay overs has seen the likes of West Indies’ Chris Gayle and Australia’s David Warner prove exceedingly destructive. Countless combinations of opening batsmen were tried and tested by England, ranging from the wild yahoos of Luke Wright to the current number six batsman Craig Kieswetter. None succeeded.

The whole tumultuous saga was akin to a twig being used as a battering ram: essentially made of the same stuff, but pathetically ineffective at emulating the real thing. Just as Gebrselassie is of insufficient build to harbour any hopes of competing in the 100 metre sprint, the same very much applies to England’s hopes of bootlegging a similar big hitting policy.

Indeed, it was perhaps for this reason that the appointment of Captain Cook was met with a fair degree of scepticism by the brainwashed cricketing public. After interminably being told that the key to success in an ODI was to get off to a flying start with big hitting batsmen leading the way, questions were inevitably asked as to why England’s selectors had appointed an opener with a distinct lack of flamboyancy as captain, thus making his inclusion inevitable.

How times change. Since that moment Cook has scored runs aplenty, with an overall strike rate not too far shy of a run a ball; and all with conventional cricket shots, too. No slogging from this opener, he is an Englishman, he will play cricket how Englishmen should play cricket, not in this uncouth anti-establishment manner being so distastefully demonstrated elsewhere on this planet. Huzzah!

In all seriousness, Captain Cook has indeed steered the good ship HMS England clear of the rocky waters of brute strength bay, guiding her in to the rather more serene harbour with a firm hand, and always leading from the prow. On the proviso of making a steady start to an innings, keeping wickets in hand and looking to gradually increase the run rate as the innings progresses, England have finally stumbled upon a strategy that they actually appear comfortable implementing.

It might be ‘old fashioned’ and somewhat less entertaining to the modern cricket fanatic, but sport is mostly about winning, right? By reverting to the more traditional method of setting about building an ODI innings, have England finally got their limited overs tactics right and resurrected what has historically been an abysmally inconsistent outfit to put them in with a chance of winning the next World Cup, or will they find themselves left behind by their rather more adventurous rivals? Or am I just being typically English and getting ludicrously carried away by one small dose of success?


  1. Having followed the England vs Pak series really closely and having supported England (my 3rd fav team after SA and India), I have the following observation to make. 4-0 is indeed a remarkable turn around. However Eng relied heavily on the openers ie Cook or/and Pietersen (not to forget the fantastic bowling unit) to see them through all the matches. Bopara also contributed with useful 50's but I think they managed to hide a pretty weak middle order with Morgan and Trott not being in any kind of form. Obviously, am not suggesting sacking them because they are class players no doubt and its just one series but I do think for a cricket team to become world class beaters in the limited overs format you need people like Dhoni and Raina in the middle. Probably Bairstow would be a good option given the promise he's shown.
    But i guess most importantly this ODI series does not wipe away the fact that English batsmen need to play spin better. Their real test will come in SL and India this year.
    I was happy to see Alastair Cook (its refreshing to see a non flamboyant player and personality become the poster boy of English cricket for a change!)leading from the front and call me biased, but I think he should have been given a chance at the T20's with him being in such good touch and Buttler not delivering. I only hope that he doesn't get carried away by the fickle English media which knocks sportsmen off a super-high pedestal as quickly as it puts them up there and that AC becomes a cricketing great by the end of his career.

  2. Hi Aditi, thanks very much for the comment.

    A great appraisal of the state of English ODI cricket, too. I think you're spot on with the suggestion that we need the Raina's and Dhoni's, i.e. power hitters, to sit in that middle order behind Cook, Pietersen and Trott. Morgan is a very good ODI player, and I expect he will come good again soon, so certainly worth persevering with.

    As you say, Sri Lanka is about to provide their real test against spin. We should certainly find out what they have learnt from the disastrous tour of the UAE against Pakistan, even if Sri Lanka's spin bowling perhaps isn't quite as good.