English cricket sinks to another low

Rooted

The long English suffering cricket fan had another reason to shake their head and shrug a saddening smile yesterday as their one day side subsided to their equal worst ever defeat, and in an important World Cup game, against New Zealand (population 3 million, lest we forget England & Wales’ combined population of 56 million, plus a few imported Irish and South African players).

I had this post half ready to go last week, in which I predicted a loss to the Kiwis (but even I could not imagine the annihilation they were to suffer), and further probable losses to Bangladesh, a close scare against Scotland, a win against Afghanistan and a possible win against Sri Lanka (… now I’m not so sure). The week got away with me, so here I sit with another anemic performance. Let’s not forget England are one of the highest paid, best supported teams in history. Legions of support staff, thousands of lines of computer code and a 7 month diet of one dayers in the lead up to this World Cup were all designed to prepare the team for their best chance in decades. An Ashes test series was cleared away to give the one day team the chance to concentrate on this format. After non performances in all world cups since 1992 (where they made the final, as they did in 1987), this was going to be their best chance to shine.

Instead, we witness a shattered team lumbering about 10 years behind other sides in thought and deed, despite having some exciting new players in Ali, Buttler, Taylor and Root. It’s all come to naught, and by my reckoning they will do extremely well from here to even qualify for the quarter finals, where they will probably lose to South Africa anyway. Last week I had them as 3 or maybe 4 wins from their 8 pool matches, now it looks like 2 or 3 wins and that won’t be good enough to make progress.

None of this need be the case. So much cricket is played by England now (around 300 playing/travelling days a year) that coaching and playing squads are simply worn out. In the chase for the almighty Indian and Australian TV dollar, Ashes series are now run every 2 years, rather than 4, and even back to back. India, England and Australia have carved up the game to take the spoils, but the impact is (for England, the only northern hemisphere test team) of all year round cricket, and players not coping. They don’t have any chance to go back to country cricket to repair, or take any time off. It’s a continuous merry go round in the gold fish bowl (to mix my metaphors).

The solution is fairly simple, but probably a stretch for the ECB to imagine. Just as rugby players do not play the sevens format as well as the full XV game (it’s a different game!), so cricketers should specialise in the full or one day format. Different players, different coaches, different formats. Split it down the middle and never the twain shall meet.

Simple.

You still have all the TV spoils, still have wall to wall cricket, but the test players take a break when the one dayers and T20s are on, and vice versa. Importantly, the one day players are all automatically available for the Indian Premier League (where the best one day players learn their trade in the ultimate T20 cauldron). As Adam Smith once said (in 1776!), “division and specialisation of labour” is key.

T20 has revolutionised one day cricket in the last few years. Teams now think nothing to hitting (or chasing down) 120 in the last 10 overs. 180 off the last 20 is a doddle (it’s just a reasonable T20 score). They simply take the batting power play from 15 overs out and then ride it all the way home to the finish at 10+ an over. They have effectively put at T20 game inside a 50 over format in the last 40% of the innings. Just as Sri Lankan openers and then Adam Gilchrist revolutionised the first 15 overs in the 1990s regularly blasting 100+, now teams are playing cautiously in the first 30 knowing they can get almost anything in the last 20 because that is the format they all know (and come from).

While England looks at one dayers from the test team down, all other teams look at it from T20 up, which is the right approach.

It means teams can be 160 off 30 overs (just over 5 an over) and chase down (or post) 340. 300 is no longer the Rubicon. It’s the new minimum, and not easily defendable. The plucky Irish chased down 300 on Monday against the once all conquering West Indies (who are now almost as shambolic as the English and will probably join them in leaving this tournament early).

Imagine having 2 coaches, 2 teams and complete separation of test from one dayers/T20s. Imagine the specialisation and increase in quality that will go on. Tell Cook, Ballance, Bell, Anderson and Broad to play test cricket only and let them go and score 10,000 runs each and take 500 wickets. Give them huge swathes of time off. Even with this idea, England play no less than 17 tests in the next 10 months. Yes, 17!

How on earth can Ali, Buttler, Root et al play all this and the one dayers? Get Carberry (playing in one of the most successful T20 sides ever, the Perth Scorchers) and KP into the one day format. They have 3 years left in them. Make KP captain.

The one day game is now far removed from the test cricket as you can imagine, and that’s due to T20 and the IPL. We can bemoan it (I don’t actually), or we can just live with it and adapt. Be innovative, “think different” as Apple one said. The crusty old establishment that is the English Cricket Board will not do this of course. Or maybe they will, sometime in 2025, but by then the world would have moved on… again.

For the record, here are my 2 teams:

England One Day and T20 team         

1. Hales
2. Carberry
3. Taylor
4. Pietersen
5. Morgan
6. Bopara
7. Kieswetter
8. Jordan
9. Woakes
10. Tredwell
11. Rankin

Test side

1. Cook
2. Robson
3. Ballance
4. Bell
5. Root
6. Ali
7. Buttler
8. Stokes
9. Broad
10. Finn
11. Anderson

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