Friday, 13 March 2015

A World Cup Disaster

Friday, 13 March 2015
England won their second game of the World Cup today, but their only reward was a plane ride home. Their World Cup campaign has been nothing short of a disaster, and once again we're left having to pick up the pieces at the end of a series. With every tournament comes the same story, repeating itself again and again.

So much went wrong that it's difficult to know where to begin. In the media there are some blaming the players, some blaming the coaching staff. Really, they're all to blame. The players haven't put in the performances that they have the ability to do. And the management have been far from inspiring. So here's me trying to put into some words the many areas where this tournament went wrong for England.

The signs were there from the start. Confusion, panic. England played their warm up series against India with their full World Cup squad, playing Bopara in the side and Taylor up at number three, and Chris Woakes opening the bowling rather than Stuart Broad. For the first match this suddenly changed. Sure, Bopara's performances weren't really justifying his place in the side, but all it did was give an image of confusion and fear to their first opponents, Australia. England had months of preparation, playing nothing but ODI cricket in the build up to the cup, and still managed to go into their first match not knowing their best eleven. Was this in part a legacy of their demolition at the hands of Mitchell Johnson the previous winter? Well this time it was a different group of players and mostly a different Mitchell, but Australia still inflicted the damage. One match down and England were already battered and bruised, the tone of the cup was set. It was only going to get worse when they faced New Zealand in the next match.

I feel like I've written a lot on this blog about the experienced players letting England down. It happened again here, with the bat and with the ball. Ian Bell continued with his cardinal sin of never going on and making the big score after making a start. His stats don't look bad on the face of it: an average of 52.40, England's top scorer with 262 runs from six innings. But it doesn't tell the full story: three fifties, no centuries; a strike rate of 77; England team totals of 231, 123, 260 - and even on the two occasions they made it to 300 they should have got far more. And, with Bell getting himself in, he should have got the big score that could have made that difference. Instead he took up time at the crease with not enough end result. Though at least he got runs: Morgan made 90 runs across five innings, and half of those came in one innings. Both now have uncertain futures in the England side: Bell may well not play ODIs again, whilst Morgan's form over the past year and even further back as not been good enough to deserve a place. I thought captaincy might spur him back to his best, but after a century in the first game of the tri-series, he's been as bad as ever.

And it's a similar story with the bowlers. James Anderson averaged 49, Stuart Broad 63.50. Those two bowlers with the most experience, supposed to be leading the attack, could only take nine wickets between them. It was, admittedly, a struggle all round for the bowlers - and perhaps the biggest casualty of all was Steven Finn. Finn is another whose stats don't look bad on the surface - England's leading wicket taker with an average of 25, and a hat trick to boot - but these just don't tell the real story. He's been in and out of the side more times than you'd think possible, and it looks like another spell out of the team is going to come again. He's just not the bowler he could be, and who knows when he will.

But it's just as much a matter of mentality. The modern game has left England behind. Players full of creativity at their counties look stunted on the international stage, thinking too much about the numbers and 'par scores' rather than focusing on the game in front of them. There is no such thing as a 'par score' any more, and this World Cup has shown that as scores well in excess of 300, 350 have been scored like never before. But from England and Peter Moores we get statements like 'we’ll have to look at the data' when they fail to chase down 275. Stop playing to the numbers and let the players express themselves and enjoy their cricket, then they might score the runs they're capable of. Stop thinking of 300 as being a good score, why not dream big and go for at least fifty more?

Somehow we went into this tournament with a fraction of hope. But it should have been more than a fraction. The Ashes were moved, we got a solid, ODI-only schedule in the months leading up to the tournament - and then this happened. Our aim became just to reach the quarter finals. And we didn't even do that. George Dobell has put this into better words than I can, writing after the defeat to Sri Lanka:
The Ashes were moved for that? England have built for four years for that? They have played six months of nothing but ODI cricket for that? Players and coaches were sacked in the hope of reaching a quarter-final? Never in the history of England cricket has the bar been set so low.
It sums up a lot of my thoughts really. We have a home World Cup in 2019, and we have to give ourselves a chance. Does this mean a change in management? Quite possibly. Certainly there'll be a change in personnel for the team, questionable futures lying ahead for many and with others waiting in the wings for their chance in the side. There is a core of good young players in the team, who with four years extra experience, should be able to pose a threat. What we don't want is a repeat of this time round - a year out and a large chunk of the team disappears, for many reasons, and a change in captain on the eve of the tournament. The rebuilding stage starts again. It. Must. Be. Better.

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