January 25, 2007

English cricket

Giving one-dayers the cold shoulder

Kanishkaa Balachandran

Andrew Miller

Wasim Akram removes Ian Botham in the 1992 World Cup final, England v Pakistan, Melbourne, 1992
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When did the English fall out of love with one-day cricket? They did, after all, invent the game. It started with county cricket's Gillette Cup in 1963, it continued with the inaugural one-day international against Australia in January 1971, and then they hosted three consecutive World Cups from 1975 to 1983. In the last four years they've even pioneered the Twenty20 version of the game.

And yet, a Cricinfo poll at the end of 2006 showed that, among British fans, more than 90% rated England's defense of the Ashes more important than a successful World Cup, an imbalance that was borne out by those most visible and vocal of supporters, the Barmy Army. More than 1700 fans signed up for the Army's official Test tours. For the one-dayers, however, there were a mere seven.

It wasn't always like this. In fact, there was a time, not so long ago, when England's Test side was in the doldrums, but they were arguably the best one-day team in the world. Such a claim might cause loud spluttering noises in the West Indies, India, Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - the five countries that have laid their mitts on the only prize that counts. But between 1979 and 1992, England did finish as runners-up in three tournaments out of four, which does hint at the sort of consistency that is so lacking from the modern-day side.

Consider, in particular, the side that finished second to Pakistan on that balmy Melbourne night in March 1992. That, quite plausibly, was the greatest England one-day line-up that has ever been compiled, and undoubtedly a contender for the top ten of all time. There was the captain, Graham Gooch, a hard-bitten disciplinarian at the peak of his world-class powers. There was Graeme Hick, as imposing in one-day cricket as he was disappointing in Tests; there was Neil Fairbrother, England's original nurdler, a forebear of the Bevan-Hussey school of finishing.

There was Alec Stewart, worth his place for his strokeplay alone but utterly invaluable as a wicketkeeper and second-in-command to Gooch. There was Allan Lamb, as bristling a middle-order batsman as has ever existed, and a man who once stole an ODI for England by slamming Bruce Reid for 18 in the final over. And propping up the lower-middle order there was a quartet of genuine allround talent in Chris Lewis, Phil DeFreitas, Dermot Reeve and Derek Pringle.

It's the sort of multi-dimensional line-up that Duncan Fletcher has spent seven fruitless years trying to emulate. Even the No. 11, the job-a-day left-arm spinner, Richard Illingworth, had four first-class centuries to his name. Oh yeah, and then there was whatsitsname ... you know, thingummy ... that bloke who opened the batting and chipped in when needed with his portly medium-pacers. When the mighty Ian Botham is the weak link in your eleven, then you know you've got it sussed.

Kevin Pietersen launches one down the ground, Australia v England, Commonwealth Bank Series, 1st Match, Melbourne, January 12, 2007
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Mind you, England don't even bother to cover their backs anymore. These days, their cricketers are entirely out on a limb in one-day cricket. Compared to other nations, they don't play enough internationals (although given the current slumber Down Under, it can also be said that they play far too many) and they don't get enough situational experience with their counties either. Kevin Pietersen, an ever-present in the England team last summer, played two one-day matches for Hampshire in the first week of May, and was never seen on the South Coast again.

Back in the early 1990s, the difference wasn't nearly so marked. By the 1992 World Cup only one player, Allan Border, had amassed more than 200 one-day caps. In yesterday's ODI at Cuttack, on the other hand, there were three Indians, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, with almost 1000 caps between them. The England team that was defeated at Adelaide this week, by way of comparison, had mustered 416.

It can't be right for a senior international team to sulk and point to inexperience every time they get defeated, but then again, does any fan of the game really want to see England play 250 ODIs in the next four years, just so that Flintoff's cap count compares more favourably with Ajit Agarkar's?

Besides, if the lesson of 1992 is anything to go by, the hard yards are irrelevant in one-day cricket. All it takes is a single flash of inspiration to win a World Cup. If Pietersen and Flintoff are primed by the time the team touch down in the Caribbean, anything could happen. But, let's face it, it is a huge, huge if.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Nick Cardinez on (January 31, 2007, 22:49 GMT)

Please, one day cricket is not real cricket, it is a different form of the game. Why it is being debated it is difficult to understand. REAL cricket is TEST MATCH cricket. Nothing is wrong with one day as entertainment or 20-20. Test cricket for intents and purposes is 5 days so that it takes the time limit out of the game. It is true artistry to build a big innings or to craft a dismissal of a batsman. That is "cricket." The over limit on one day games brings a different artistry. But as a bowler, getting a batsman out because he has to slog is no feather in his cap. And a batsman being relieved because his nightmare is over when his predator has finished his 10 overs, is contrary to the spirit of the antagonism that is "cricket." You bat until they they get you out and you bowl until you are fatigued and then replaced. And 20-20, that after all is, you guessed it ...BASEBALL

Posted by Nooru on (January 30, 2007, 19:05 GMT)

Hang on everyone.Lets put this column to rest.Andrew, the fact is that english ODI cricket is left behind the rest and the english board , team , media etc. just cannot digest this fact.All this talk about ashes being more important than WC is just a lame excuse , an underlying fear of english ODI team of being thrashed in limited overs cricket.Proof : Harmison retiring from ODI!!!Unbelievable.P.S. Why there are no flashes of brilliance from Eng team?.

Posted by Aditya on (January 28, 2007, 22:04 GMT)

Tariq...don't forget that India has at least on three occasions been bowled out for scores around 100 and has come back to win the match...one of them was against your team Pakistan in Sharjah, another one was against New Zealand in a test match, and there was one against the West Indies somewhere...and there probably have been many more which I can't remember what's more, your characterization of Indians as "mere mortals" as compared to Pakistan is extremely lame and self-satisfying. It's nice to be proud of your country, but when you take it out on others it's just mindless zealotry.

Posted by Aaron on (January 28, 2007, 2:31 GMT)

Hang on, the 92 English team wasn't that good (sure good by England standards). The author seems to dismiss the losses to NZ and Zim in the round robin however NZ went through that series almost unbeaten and were set to win the semi againt Pak until an incredible innings by Inzamam turned the game. Eng weren't even the second best team in that world cup

Posted by Gary on (January 28, 2007, 2:20 GMT)

What on earth can Andrew mean by England being a "senior" international team? This adjective doesn't ring true - neither for the average age, or the performance of this current lot. It's not difficult to think of plenty of more appropriate adjectives...

Posted by Arthur on (January 27, 2007, 12:46 GMT)

England should relax for the rest of the CB series and the World Cup. Everyone expects them to lose, so why not just try and enjoy it (unless Strauss, Flintoff etc are having some Astle moments, then they should just not play).

Surely it's fun for England to play in this (unimportant frankly) CB series and the World Cup. England are rank underdogs, so they should just enjoy it, and there may be a change from 1996 and 1999 England when England were shamblolic and nervous.

There is too much one-day cricket; but as they make lots of cash....

Posted by Andrew on (January 27, 2007, 10:32 GMT)

The real question is not "Why is ENG losing?" The question is "Why are they losing SO badly?"

Yesterday's disgrace followed another score against NZ barely scraping into 3 figures, and they scored at 3 an over on an Adelaide Oval pitch barely bouncing up to waist height. Associate countries would put on a better contest than that debacle.

Posted by Asad on (January 26, 2007, 21:31 GMT)

Its just an easy story to make up "Our team is not interested in ODI cricket so It doesn't win ODIs. I think the English board and their coach should abandon this policy of ignoring defeats in ODIs. If you can not win a match whether its an ODI or a test match, that means there is something missing from your team, and it doesn't have what it needs to be a good team. English cricket is paying for it policy of ignoring the limited version of the game. An Australian tour is the ultimate test with the tests following a long ODI series, and if you are not winning then the losses keep piling up and make you in bunch of individuals with no motivation left to play. It will take them a while to get their confidence back.

Posted by Billy on (January 26, 2007, 21:17 GMT)

dear mr manish. there are lots of if´s and but´s in cricket. what if Lance Klusner hadn´t lost his mind in 99 cup, or what if Pollock had done some mathematic homewrok in 2003? At teh end of the day the only things counts is, who prevails. like they say "A defeat is an orphan, and a victory has a lot of "fathers".

Posted by Umair Murtaza on (January 26, 2007, 20:06 GMT)

What England are currently going through is really sad, even heart breaking. Andrew is kind by saying Fletcher is trying since the past 7 years...., what England really need is a new coach with can bring out ruthless agression in them and dispel their fear of loosing altogether. A coach like Greg Chappell or even Bob Woolmer can do wonders for them than the apolegetic and defensive Duncan Fletcher. Flintoff needs someone to bring out the spark in him , otherwise he is increasingly and alaramingly becoming a spent force.

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