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England's World Cup plans are in ruins after another trouncing from India at Edgbaston and Alastair Cook's presence in the side is impossible to justify
September 2, 2014
'World Cup not for underperformers' - Cook
By the end of a game that had all the competitive elements of a day of seal clubbing, there could be no masking the flaws in the England ODI side. This wasn't a cricket match. It was a massacre.
Bowled out for the fifth time in six full-length ODIs - including every innings this series - they only avoided sinking to a first 10-wicket defeat in a home ODI when Ajinkya Rahane hit a full-toss to cover with victory in sight. This was 'sport' in the same way that shooting and fishing are sports. There was only ever going to be one winner.
England have now lost five ODIs in a row and five ODI series out of six. They are not building towards a World Cup challenge, they are crumbling ahead of it.
This defeat leaves them with 12 ODIs - it could be 13, but can you really see them reaching the final of the tri-series event with Australia and India? - before their World Cup campaign starts. Which means they are running out of time to find a formula that might work. It is a phrase that could have been written ahead of every World Cup challenge they have mounted since 1996.
There has some simplification of history in much of the recent analysis. To claim that England have fallen behind the rest of the world in their ODI tactics for more than a decade ignores the fact - and facts tend to be more persuasive than selective opinions - that, less than two years ago, they were rated No. 1 in the world in the ICC rankings. It ignores, too, that just over 12 months ago, they were in the Champions Trophy final. They have not always been this bad.
And it is not so ridiculous to presume that their tactics - accumulate then accelerate - could yet prove effective. Had England scored 270 here, as was their target at the start of their innings, they might just have put the India batsmen under a little more pressure. The problem remains more that the execution of their tactics has been woeful.
To play out four maidens in the first mandatory Powerplay; for none of the top six - including the perceived 'accumulators' - to have registered a half-century in the series; to lose with 20 overs remaining: these are signs of a team that failed even to compete. It was akin to India taking on an Associate nation.
There has been much talk about the players England need to pick in order to improve their performance: the likes of Jason Roy, James Vince and James Taylor. And, it is true, each of them may have a part to play, although expecting them to provide a silver-bullet solution is asking a bit much.
Kevin Pietersen, too, might have had a part to play. But unless he is going to play county cricket regularly enough to find form and warrant genuine consideration, he slips - sadly - into irrelevance. He has not played a List A game this year.
But it is Jonathan Trott that they miss. A healthy Jonathan Trott, anyway. If they are going to utilise these tactics, it is a batsman of Trott's ability - his batting average is 20% higher than any man to represent England in more than 20 ODIs - that they require to establish the platform on which the likes of Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan can build.
Up until the end of the Champions Trophy, England sides including Trott were bowled out for under 250 once in 25 full-length ODIs dating back to the start of 2012. Without him, it has happened six times in 17 ODIs. It might be a risk taking him back to Australia, but in the 2011 ODI series in the country, against an attack including Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, he topped the England averages (62.50) and had a strike-rate of 81.69.
|The management's continued insistence that they believe Alastair Cook is the man to lead the ODI side forward in the face of all logic and evidence is beginning to resemble those who deny climate change|
It may be that there is no combination of England players available good enough to win the World Cup. But even if that is the case - and if it is, there should be a thorough review of the failure of the county and England programmes to produce the requisite players - there is no reason to accept performances as dire as this.
It has become almost impossible to defend Alastair Cook's position in the side. It is now 38 innings and 26 months since he has reached even 80. For a man selected to provide the platform for others, that is an unsustainable record.
The management's continued insistence that they believe he is the man to lead the ODI side forward in the face of all logic and evidence is beginning to resemble those who deny climate change. It is surely telling that the only ODI series England have won in recent times - against West Indies - was with a side that did not include Cook.
One of Cook's great qualities is his stubborn determination. His refusal to know he is beaten. It is part of what has rendered him one of England's greatest Test batsmen.
But, in these circumstances, those qualities might be a weakness. It is increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that Cook is part of the problem and that, whatever his many positive qualities as a man, he is simply no longer worth his place in the side. He is impeding the opportunities for the likes of Roy or Trott or Taylor. He needs to go.
There was one shaft of light for England. The elegant way Moeen Ali eased his way to a 37-ball half-century - there have been only 20 faster by England players - in his first ODI in England offered some hope for the future and some respite from the otherwise unrelentingly one-sided nature of this 'contest.'
But it was a brief interlude of joy in a general drama of pain. England are dire at ODI cricket. There can be no denying it.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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