Since the first one day match nearly 50 years ago England have had a rather troubled relationship with the format. Despite protestations to the contrary over that time, it has taken a clear second place to Test cricket in both the affections of English fans and the ECB itself. Where the horse and the cart are located is an open question, but despite reaching three World Cup finals it’s a poor record compared to any of the other major nations. The World T20 win in 2010, propelled by He Who Must Not Be Mentioned remains the only global title England have ever won, a shockingly poor return.
England have had periods of some success of course, but always with the feeling that they were carrying an extra load on their backs. The innovation came from from others, England last showing signs of thinking differently when they pushed Ian Botham up to open the batting in Australia in 1987. The 1992 tournament turned out to be something of a high water mark meaning that for a substantial proportion of followers England have been dreadful their entire lives. Of course that’s a slight exaggeration, there have been times where they’ve put in good performances, won series and reached finals ; likewise there have been players who have been good performers in both 20 and 50 overs, and yet although individual players were considered dangerous – Pietersen most notably recently – it never amounted to a side who would ever truly scare the opposition.
With the invention of T20 at professional level, it moved to a different plane, as all the major sides upped the ante. Where scores of 300 were regarded as exceptional, they now became the norm, with 400+ now not even proving a safe score as Australia found in South Africa. But not for England. Stories abounded of them being hidebound by computer modelling, of aiming for “competitive” scores that the data told them they would win with, only to be battered. Graeme Swann has rarely proved to be a reliable witness but his stories of England’s tactical thinking seemed all too plausible.
The nadir came at the 2015 World Cup, where England failed to get out of their group, something that takes a considerable degree of effort considering the determination of the ICC to try to render the group stages to be as meaningless as possible, except financially. They left to derision from the cricket world, and contempt at home, a path their football and rugby equivalents would follow soon enough.
And yet. With hindsight perhaps the first glimmers of a new approach came at around that time. The removal of Alastair Cook from the side, to his clear and very public disgust, was long overdue – not because he isn’t a good player, but because his style of batting is simply obsolete in short form cricket. His replacement Eoin Morgan’s clearly stated dissatisfaction with the method England were employing became ever more obvious during the disastrous performances in Australia, while the omission of Ben Stokes from the squad and refusal to pick Alex Hales seemed symptomatic of a setup that simply didn’t appear to understand one day cricket, thinking it a contraction of Tests not an expansion of T20. For the first time though, the players were showing the smallest hints of rebellion, and the appointment of Paul Farbrace to the England coaching staff seemed entirely at odds with a side approaching the game in such a conservative fashion.
The removal of Peter Moores as coach appeared to be the catalyst for finally attempting to play the game as the rest of the world had been doing for some years, and the bonus of New Zealand being the first visitors post World Cup forced the change in concept, both in one day cricket and Test cricket. England have a lot to be thankful to their teachers for. Andrew Strauss’s decision to retain Morgan as captain was, if not a brave one as such, certainly not what was expected. Farbrace’s determination that England play with freedom wasn’t remotely the first time it had been said, but it was the first time anyone had ever meant it. The old line about scoring at ten an over but don’t take any risks which was unquestionably the way England thought gave way to a more forgiving environment where taking risks was encouraged, and failure in that pursuit forgiven. This is perhaps the biggest, most important change England ever made. Freeing up players to express themselves is only truly possible if those players do not feel a presence looking over their shoulders in the event that they fail. There are endless buzz terms to describe that, but it still amounts to accepting that failure is the price of success.
The impact was immediate, England going over 400 for the first time in a series where they scored at least 300 every time except in a rain affected D/L win. Whereas before 300 was the upper limit of England’s aspirations, they were suddenly viewing it as the bare minimum. The second match, a defeat, perhaps best expressed the remarkable change in thinking. New Zealand had scored an impressive 398-5, the kind of total England couldn’t ever have hoped to try to chase down. They fell short alright, but only by 13 runs. For the first time, there was a feeling that England might actually be developing the kind of side to seriously challenge large totals.
New players were being brought in, not because they were being analysed for a Test place, but because they were outstanding one day prospects. Jason Roy had a slowish start but was kept faith with; Ben Stokes was brought back; Alex Hales was no longer kicking his heels and carrying drinks but opening the batting and being told to play the way he can. From an era where England relied on the middle order to try to raise the tempo from a solid start, they were suddenly going at it from the off, with those below tasked with maintaining the momentum, not rescuing a lost cause and aiming for respectability.
A series defeat to Australia followed, and the flip side of the determination to attack showed itself in the decider, where England collapsed to 138 all out and were thrashed. This perhaps proved to be the most important test, for rather than retreating into their shells they instead, under new coach Trevor Bayliss, reaffirmed their determination to play in the same way and to consider such failures as nothing other than an occupational hazard. There’s an irony here – for so long asserting that high risk approach as being the way a player or a team does things has been used as a stick with which to beat them. Grasping that risk is part of the equation has always seemed beyond a certain, very English kind of mindset.
A comfortable series win in the UAE against Pakistan showed that England could play more than one way under different conditions, for that kind of away series offered different challenges and different upper limits in terms of scoring. It also marked a change in bowling approach to stop simply using the Test bowlers – not for the sake of it, but because there were better one day options available. Jason Roy too finally showed what he is capable of, and with Jos Buttler rapidly becoming a player to genuinely fear, for the first time in living memory England had a top five or six where every single one of them could seriously damage opponents. One player not mentioned so far is Joe Root, and it could be said that he is performing the kind of role given in previous years to Cook or Trott – the conventional player around whom the others would bat. The difference being that Root is a true modern cricketer, multi-dimensional and capable of all formats. A run a ball as the base minimum is not at all bad when others are scoring even faster.
England lost the subsequent series in South Africa, but not before once again approaching the 400 mark and not before once again overreaching and falling short in two matches to cost the series. That caused the first criticism from the press of how England were playing, that they needed to learn to lower their sights. Although never being explicit about it, the message that came back when reading between the lines was to reject that kind of thinking completely, that bad days given the nature of the format were inevitable and that if England were truly to become the best, then this was the only way they would achieve it.
It is of course impossible to assess a wider view on how that response was received, but at least anecdotally, English supporters appeared to be fully behind it, and much more willing to accept the bad days than the media were. In most sports, supporters tend to be more forgiving of failure if they have faith in the approach. And this one was exciting – reaching for the stars is more thrilling than simply aiming to get off the ground, even when it doesn’t quite work out.
Which brings us to yesterday.
Given the history of England in one day cricket, the very idea that England would break the world record total was perhaps one of the most laughable that could be conceived. Perhaps only Bangladesh or Zimbabwe of the full members would ever be thought less likely to do such a thing, and undoubtedly eyebrows will be raised around the world that it was England (“What, England?”) who set the new target. But it’s been coming. While results have been a little up and down, the likelihood that England would give a bowling attack a right royal pasting has been increasing all the time. Pakistan may not be at the level they have been, but their bowling is their strong suit, and yesterday they were simply destroyed.
Perhaps symptomatic of England’s troubled history is that their national record for the highest individual score had stood for over 20 years, and while Robin Smith’s 167 is a fine score in any era, that it barely crept into the top 40 of highest individual scores – with the best ever nearly a hundred more – was as good an example of how badly England had been left behind as you could find. Smith’s record may have stood for 23 years, but there are no guarantees at all that Hales’ new mark will stand for as long as 23 days. Jason Roy came close only recently, and Jos Buttler, Joe Root or Ben Stokes look capable of beating it every time they come out to bat, while Eoin Morgan is hardly ruled out.
Further down the order hitters are prevalent too, indeed only Mark Wood resembles a tail ender in any way – Liam Plunkett at ten has shown himself capable of striking the first ball he receives for six in the past. If that is the batting, then the bowling attracts less attention, but as much as anything this is merely how one day cricket now works. It is all about the batting, and bowlers, to their chagrin and the delight of batsmen the world over, are reduced to nothing more than feeding the batters and trying to keep the run rate under control. Perversely or not, this makes bowlers who do take wickets even more valuable, and it is in that discipline that there is a little less certainty with regard to England.
While Hales rightly got the man of the match, it was Buttler who caught the eye even more. He simply terrorises the opposition – while he is in, anything is possible. Even so, while he reached his 50 off 22 balls, Eoin Morgan was only two balls slower to his, yet passed almost unnoticed such was the headiness of the striking.
England are now at the point where they strike fear into the heart of opponents. By making such a statement they are ensuring that no team will ever be sure they have enough runs, that no total is ever impregnable. It may not be that England are the best team in the world, but they are not far from it and they are still developing. Next year sees the Champions Trophy held in England, and perhaps for the very first time England will go in to a tournament not just with hopes of winning, but realistic aspirations that they should. Quite simply, there is no team, not India, not Australia, not New Zealand, who can compete with England’s batting power and depth. That in itself does not make them the best, for different conditions will bring different problems and highlight specific weaknesses, while other teams will play far better than Pakistan have. But what it does do is cause every other nation to cast nervous glances towards a side who are beginning to demonstrate that they are something a little bit special.
For any England fan, this is truly remarkable. The country that showed little interest except during World Cups where they stank the place out has set down a new standard. For the first time, perhaps ever, it is England who are causing the rest of the world to consider how to catch up.
As ever a great read. As someone posted on Twitter. If only it had been on Free to Air TV. How many kids would be inspired by them?
If anyone under 30 understands the relevance of the post title, they can have a virtual drink on me.
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I’m (really very slightly) over 30, so I’m having a real drink, if that’s ok?
Poor old Roy Castle. Mind, I never warmed to the Freedom Association’s Norris McWhirter much. He’d probably have been quite at home at the ECB . . .
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I’m 24 and I got it 😉
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Great piece LGL, absolutely spot on! Here’s to the glory days methinks 🙂
Whose batting style are you calling obsolete? Are you looking at Alistair Cook? See you outside!
A great piece Chris. Insightful, balanced and beautifully written.
Alastair! I keep writing the name incorrectly! Shame on me.
You know that maxim there is no ‘i’ in team. So why do folk keep thinking there must be two of them in Alastair?
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Okay, someone has to be the relentless churl, and if no-one else wants to…. let it be me!
Firstly, on the broad issue of England and one-day cricket. The comparison is always with England’s history. We’re so much better than we were at the last WC! We’re so much better than we’ve ever been (ever meaning since 1992 because the world didn’t exist before then)! Yes – but those are not the only meaningful measures. A team of England’s player base and resources should be highly competitive in one-dayers. The current success is not a miracle – it is England getting up to the level where England should be. It’s the chronic under-performances of the past that need some explaining, not the current results. The team was sacrificed on the altar of officer class opening batsmen/captains unsuited to one-day cricket for two decades – and the one time that was briefly abandoned, under Adam Hollioake, hey presto the team did rather well.
Secondly, are England’s results that good? I don’t care how many big scores they run up – these are a means to an end, not (as they seem to be regarded) an end in themselves. Do England win? This summer England have thrashed two very poor ODI sides. Okay, that was all they could do. (More thoughts on Pakistan later). The likes of Vaughan and Hussain are flushing down the memory plughole the lost series to SA and Australia. Both losses were quite narrow – but then so was the win against NZ. In both cases, England went into a decider at 2-2 and lost heavily. I’m not at all convinced that it was down to over-ambition and was just an unfortunate bad day at the office. It’s reasonable to put a question mark against this team’s ability to cope with tournament pressure as the decider of a bilateral series is the nearest one can get to tournament conditions outside of a tournament. That’s a big question mark to be answered. For Vaughan to compare England to the great Australian side that won three consecutive WCs away from home is preposterous.
Thirdly, is the team that good? The batting has power and depth? Agreed. But “quite simply, there is no team, not India, not Australia, not New Zealand, who can compete with England’s batting power and depth”? Really? Look at Australia’s first-choice top eight – can it really not compete with England’s? There are other qualities than depth and power – what about flexiibilty? Can this side cope with an ODI on a bowler-friendly wicket? England lost the series against Australia because they collapsed on a pitch where the ball nipped about – and they collapsed not to McGrath and Warne, not even to Starc and Hazlewood, but to John Hastings and Mitch Marsh. The bigger question marks remain against the bowling. There are lots of options! Yes – but are they really top class? The seamers did better in the T20 WC than I thought they would – and that may be more significant than the batting feats that are grabbing the headlines. However a couple of good T20s isn’t much of a foundation to build a castle on. There’s much to be proved by the bowling attack. I’d also say England are not a great fielding team – they’re not bad but it’s still a team I could see dropping catches and missing run outs under pressure.
Fourthly, are Pakistan that bad? Yes, and yes again. They are ranked ninth – but there still seems a kind of denial about this (as if they were good once and we can’t quite recalibrate). Their batting has been left behind by the franchise revolution. Why aren’t they on the list of teams less likely to break the batting record than England ? They should be! For all the talk about the Judge’s long-standing record, Pakistan’s also dates back to the 1990s. (I’m not telling you who it is – but I loved watching him almost as much as the Judge!). Pakistan’s white ball bowling strength has been massively overstated – read the excellent article on Cricinfo by Ahmer Naqvi about that. There are multiple ways of showing how poor they are – they only qualified for the CT by rigging the schedule, they may well have to play in the qualifiers for the 2019 WC, they have lost 10 consecutive tournament games to India (I think) etc. Pakistan are a seriously, seriously bad one-day side.
Fifthly, are we happy this is where the game is heading? Someone (I think it was Big Kev) called this sort of cricket seal-clubbing and I’m seeing the point. I didn’t watch it – not that it matters. I watched a gripping contest between bat and ball in the morning at Centurion. I’d rather watch a great fast bowler than have Ravi Shastri yelling “that’s out of here” or Nasser telling us yet again that it’s “massive”. Bilateral ODIs have long struggled and I’d be inclined to put them out of their misery. I haven’t watched a ball of the SL/Australia ODIs either. It might be nice if the occasional ODI in England wasn’t on a road – but I guess the counties know what’s expected of them.
So, England are a very good side in ODIs but with much still to prove. The winter ODIs against India will be a better test of where the team stands. They could well win the CT next year – they have, after all, come within a whisker of winning it before. Whether it’s a competition that I can care about, that should be taking place, and should be taking place in England – these are quite different matters.
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If you’re saying that this England couldn’t really be trusted to do much better than the class of early 2015 if they were to play on bouncy Aussie wickets (i.e. out of their comfort zone) against Aus, NZ and SA …
that they’ll probably do well on English roads with a bit of home-side-favouring early season nibble in the CT next June…
then I agree with you.
Sort of – but I suspect two-paced and slow-turning wickets could be more of an issue for them than bouncy ones.
The officer class in Cook responds after the World Cup in March…
“Whether I would have made a difference, I don’t know. But I was fully confident we would get out of our group, and from there, you’ve got to win three games in a row – that’s how this World Cup has worked.
“ The selectors made that decision because they thought it was the best for English cricket. Hindsight has probably proved them wrong,”
Then in true officer class style he claims that the poor performance in the WC may have upset his test team
“[The Test team] was in a good place. I wouldn’t say all of it [confidence] has been [broken], but a hell of a lot of it has been. You have to remember that it is a different format and you get a change, but all teams are grouped under the same English cricket umbrella, and we can’t be naive enough to think that it’s not,” he admitted.
“We have a repairing job to do, and the only way of doing that is by playing some good cricket and start winning. We built that momentum a little bit after the Ashes 14 or 15 months ago with a slightly younger side, including the likes of Gary Ballance and Joe Root. There was a feelgood factor about the English game in the middle of August after the Test matches. Since then, it’s been tough going. We’ve got to rebuild again.”
The Cook/Morgan relationship seems to continue to be frosty. Judging by Newmans piece this week highlighting their different views on the coming tour. Reading between the lines I think Cook feels his destiny was taken away from him by the ECB, and Morgan got the benefit.
Re the seal-clubbing, I refer you to quebecer’s post in the previous thread. Skill was involved. Seals were not harmed. And I think KP would have enjoyed the way Buttler was manipulating the field.
It would be interesting to read someone more expert than me on how Buttler actually hits the ball. He seems to have developed a technique that gives him an extra leverage at the point of impact – I think it was Nasser said he ‘breaks his hands’.
On “seal-clubbing”, I’ve mixed feelings (I said “I’m seeing the point” i.e. I can see why someone says that, not that I 100% agree). If “clubbing” means just ‘big bats’, then of course that’s a nonsense.
The “seal” part I take to mean the victim is helpless, not that there isn’t necessarily skill involved. A road of a pitch, a ball that doesn’t seam nor swing, short boundaries, some would add fielding restrictions although these have now been relaxed from what they were – where do bowlers fit in? I don’t mind the occasional run-fest but the balance is too far in one direction to my taste.
Anyway, that dreadful England of the 1990s that people keep writing books about couldn’t have done anything similar. Could never have massacred Pakistan in a TB ODI….
This made me smile: “Inzamam-ul-Haq run out “
If you’re having a good day as a bowler if you only average 40 / wicket, the balance is off. Seal clubbing is an apt description. Sure it involves some skill (as does seal clubbing, undoubtedly), but it is not a contest between two sides. It is a contest to set some personal / team records, but as a competition it is meaningless.
Highest successful chase in an ODI is South Africa’s effort against Australia from 2006. That is the ONLY entry in the top 50 of ODI totals. The next highest is 362/1 by India (place #53). That was an absolute road; there was only one batsman from both sides who got out before making 50 in the entire match. In the slog overs (Adam Voges, in the 49th over), got himself out
Only 3 times has a team batting first made 350 or more and lost.
Personally, I am much more interested in ODIs where par is around 220-240.