October 24, 2011

Mike Holmans

Playing the long game

Mike Holmans
Scott Borthwick was bowled by Varun Aaron, India v England, 4th ODI, Mumbai, October 23, 2011
England are playing 50-over cricket as if it were a speeded-up Test match, while India play as though it's the stretch-limo version of Twenty20  © AFP
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The India v England ODI series has seen the boot not just on the other foot, but planted firmly up England's backside. They might possibly have won at Mohali if they had been sharper in the field, though even that is pretty doubtful, but otherwise they have been hopelessly outclassed.

This is hardly surprising. Other than changing the captain who opens the batting, there is essentially no difference between the current team and the one that wasn't good enough to get beyond the World Cup quarter-final. It was clear even then that the team was not really up to the task of winning ODIs on South Asian pitches, especially against India.

One can pick apart the various flaws in certain players, which are in several cases partly explained by their lack of experience, but the main problem is strategic: England are playing 50-over cricket as if it were a speeded-up Test match, while India play as though it's the stretch-limo version of Twenty20.

The most obvious indication of this is the persistence with Jonathan Trott at No. 3. This is not meant as a criticism of him – his job is to hang around all through the innings and give the strike to the hitter at the other end, and he does it very well indeed – it is the job description itself which is at fault. It is a strategy that assumes that too many wickets will be lost too quickly unless there is an anchor keeping one end safe, which implies that they do not believe in all-out attack, or at least that they have little confidence in their ability to carry such a policy off.

Despite this, Alastair Cook and Andy Flower have both gone out of their way to praise Trott and have made it very clear that he is an integral part of their ODI strategy, even if Flower slightly qualified that by adding the rider “unless and until a better player comes along”. England fans can therefore look forward to more gloom and despondency during the rest of the winter's away ODIs against Sri Lanka and Pakistan (wherever “Pakistan” is actually situated).

One possible explanation is that the England management are stupid.

However, stupidity is not one of Flower's most obvious qualities. Quite the opposite: he gives every impression of being someone who thinks deeply about the England team's needs and how they should reach their goals.

While the way Trott plays is not ideal for Asian conditions, it makes a lot of sense in English conditions where it's not uncommon for a side to lose three or four wickets in the first ten overs. England's recent home ODI record is pretty good, and Trott has featured well in many of the wins, as he did in the series that England won in South Africa two winters ago. Conditions in Australia and New Zealand are similar to those in South Africa and England respectively. England's record in ODIs in Australia is pretty poor, including on the last visit, but since those series have been at the fag-end of a mentally and physically tiring Ashes series, they have probably not been ideal for assessing the ODI team.

The point being that what matters in ODI cricket is the World Cup. Australia may be top of the ODI rankings by a country mile, but who cares? It's India who are World Cup champions, and that's all that people really recognise. The rankings only cause any interest in the months leading up to a World Cup when people want to make some assessment of who are the potential winners of the main tournament.

Since the next World Cup is in Australia and New Zealand, what England need to do is to develop a team which can play well in Australasia. Nothing else matters. Having a team that plays poorly in Asia means that they spend a lot of time getting laughed at as well acres of hand-wringing press comment about how useless the ODI team is whenever they get thrashed by India from here to breakfast time, but for the next decade or so, until the World Cup circus returns to southern Asia, that's just a distraction.

Depressing though the current series has been, Flower is gambling in pursuit of the prize in 2015. We England fans have to hope he's right.

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Posted by Hiren M on (November 21, 2011, 9:06 GMT)

Someone was talking about 3-0 in England but dear please see tthat Indian Team no top players at that tym still played well , we r nt only lions at home see that in Australia in near future .We compete with SA in their backyard and almost beaten them .

Posted by Elirye on (November 1, 2011, 7:08 GMT)

India has developed a specific and very successful strategy of winning on Indian soil that is to stuff the team with batsmen even at the cost of bowlers. Any team lacking world class bowlers who can perform irrespective of conditions would struggle against India. Keeping that in mind, Pakistan, Australian and South Africa are the only teams who would always put Indian team under pressure. Based on recently concluded two bilateral series between India and England, ICC should pondet seriously to start a championship for the World's best home team, and both India and England should given bye to play directly in the finals...

Posted by jabeen on (October 31, 2011, 15:01 GMT)

trott is the best english batsman right now,he should play the sheet anchors rolls.

Posted by Jeegar on (October 30, 2011, 5:51 GMT)

I'll add my 2 cents worth...Does the author say that England will have a WC winning team even though they might get thrashed in the sub continent. And that it will be fine with them !!! I don't believe either suppositions. Australia are the no 1 ranked team in the world. They won 4-1 in 2 of the last 3 ODI tours of India (the last series was a rain marred 0-1 loss where 2 games were washed out). It is not required to sacrifice subcontinent cricket skills to be successful everywhere else. And I dont think any team can become that good or that bad by changing the conditions. England are poor in ODI cricket because they cannot play spin and cannot rotate the strike when boundaries are not available. Skills that are aplenty in more successful ODI teams like Aus, Ind, SL. These skills will be required in 2015 WC as well and THAT rather than the conditions will decide how they will fare. Eng can ignore these lessons from this tour at their own peril.

Posted by Girish on (October 28, 2011, 18:12 GMT)

Great article. You echoed my thoughts. I hope Flower reads this article. Desperate to see England win the next World Cup. I agree with the Trott logic and the need to exclude him on Asian pitches. The same should apply to Cook and Bell.

Posted by Nick on (October 28, 2011, 17:28 GMT)

I think the truth lies somewhere between the following:-

1. Yes the World Cup is what matters more than a quick ODI tour to India 2. Yes, he is probably trying to build a side for all conditions 3. No, he isn't playing his best 11, but he's trying out a few guys

I think the 2015 team will be half a team different,but Flower still won't be happy with the result in India recently.

Posted by Kiranraj on (October 28, 2011, 13:17 GMT)

Most of the Things on the post seems a knee jerk reaction to what happened in the series. Remember even England are without two of their best ODI players in Eoin Morgan and Stuart Broad. This indeed makes a huge difference as the replacement for these players are simply not in that league. About Trott, i think if he plays he has to bat 3 and for all the runs he has scored he deserves a place in the side. One thing i do think is flawed with England is that their belief that there are strikers who can do the big hitting while Trott can hold one end up, this because apart from Morgan none of the others including Pietersen, are big power hitters like Raina or Dhoni. England are trying to get Bairstow and Ben Stokes to do that but it will take some time. I think with Broad back along with bresnan, FInn/Anderson, Swann England have a good enough team to beat most teams on any surface. They just have to believe that.

Posted by Sreeni M on (October 28, 2011, 9:57 GMT)

I have found often that when one feels seriously let down by a hero, a team or a leader one idolizes, the first reaction is to find a convoluted justification that explains away the failure, and this article by Mr.Holmans does just that.

Posted by Sriram on (October 28, 2011, 9:35 GMT)

I agree with Venkat... In Cricket, Captain runs the show... He should be selected by a committee of ex-players and administrators... He should have a say who should be the Coach not the other way around. Coach basically helps the Captain run the show. The modern day emphasis on the Coach / Manager / Director is nauseating... The great teams of West Indies and Australia didn't rule because of their Coaches / Managers / Directors but because of pro-active Captains with superlative Players.

Posted by Rishabh on (October 27, 2011, 18:36 GMT)

It is not just about winning the next world cup. If England want to be acknowledged as the best team in the world they have to be able to defeat all teams home and away, in addition to winning the world cup. Thats what the great Australian and west Indies teams did. Australia werent just lions in conditions they preferred - they defeated India in tests and ODIs in their backyard - thats why they were great and not just good.

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