Rip it up and start again
England's one-day team are in disarray. They are not just losing games but losing them by wide margins. Their batting is mediocre and their bowling isn't that good. They have been rubbish abroad for the last eight years, and now they're rubbish at home too.
The dressing-room diagnosis is that the players haven't been carrying out their plans. Which is evidently true, unless the fast bowlers have been told to make sure they get cut to shreds. "We have got plans to bowl in certain areas," Paul Collingwood said yesterday, "but we haven't hit our straps." Those straps would have to be awfully big to have a chance of being hit by this attack. But the malaise goes deeper. Seven years of Duncan Fletcher have transformed England's Test team, and done hardly anything for the one-day side.
In the first five World Cups, England reached either the final (1979, 1987, 1992) or the semi-finals (1975, 1983). In the past three World Cups, it has been more a case of a debacle (1996, 1999) or a semi-debacle (2003). They are now heading for their fourth World Cup flop in a row. The plan doesn't need executing better, it needs ripping up. They have to do something radical - to think outside the box, as administrators in seminars like to say. Here are six possibilities they should at least consider.
1. Ship in experience
Fletcher is forever pointing to the inexperience of his young understudies. But it is his choice to pick them. Apart from Glen Chapple, Fletcher keeps turning to youth. He seems to have forgotten that when England had bad injuries ahead of the 2001 Ashes, they recalled two alleged has-beens, Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash - who turned out to be their best players in the series. So send for Darren Gough, who is no longer a spearhead but can at least bowl straight and full. And sound out Stuart Law, who is qualified for England, in form for Lancashire, and spent 50 one-dayers collecting know-how in Australia's middle order. Law said last year that he hoped England would win the Ashes, and that they had a chance because of Andrew Flintoff. So his heart is in the right place already.
2. Get away from the Test team
The current orthodoxy is that the best players should play both forms of the game. If this were the whole truth, Australia wouldn't pick Andrew Symonds, Shane Warne wouldn't have been allowed to half-retire, Yuvraj Singh would still be a novice and you wouldn't have heard of Justin Kemp. England's finest were knackered after the last Ashes series, so just think what the next one will do to them. They need at least five players coming in fresh and aiming to have the time of their careers.
Duncan Fletcher was a handy one-day player himself for
Zimbabwe, but his style as a coach - patient, methodical, painstaking - is better geared to Test cricket. He should either have a rethink or step aside for someone with a real feel for the one-day game
3. Play to old English strengths
England's traditional virtues in one-day cricket have been batting through the innings (Amiss, Gooch, Gower, Knight) and bowling line and length (Hendrick, Old, DeFreitas, Fraser). So recall Jon Lewis, who helped ambush Australia in the Twenty20 game a year ago. And give less free rein to Marcus Trescothick, who has made more one-day hundreds (11) than any other Englishman. Make him the official anchorman. Don't bother partnering him with Andrew Strauss, who has two hundreds, both against weak attacks, and is no more a one-day player than Justin Langer. For Trescothick's opening partner...
4. Play to new English strengths
No English player or coach has ever come up with a significant innovation in one-day cricket. But an English marketing man has: Twenty20, dreamed up by Stuart Robertson of the ECB. It has been a revelation, bringing things out of players they never knew they had, rewarding cool quick thinking rather than the hot-head slogging the traditionalists feared. So mine this seam and summon Mal Loye, Lancashire's master-blaster opener, who has faced 410 balls in Twenty20 and scored 600 runs off them; his party trick, sweeping the new ball, will go down a treat with Caribbean crowds. And look at others who have shone in this harsh light: Gary Keedy, also of Lancashire, to be Ashley Giles, and Darren Maddy of Leicestershire, to do for England what Tom Moody did for Australia in 1999, supplying shrewd efficiency in two departments.
5. Spare Geraint Jones
Dropping Chris Read from the one-day side wasn't ruthless, it was clueless. He is not just a better wicketkeeper than Jones but a better one-day batsman. And in any case, Jamie Dalrymple's assured start means that when Flintoff returns, the keeper can slip down to number eight. In the Caribbean, where the surfaces are uneven, you need your best keeper, and Read will be hungry after two years of being ostracised, while Jones will be overdue for a break.
6. Replace the coach
Some players are just better suited to Test than one-day cricket. Some coaches are too. Duncan Fletcher was a handy one-day player himself for Zimbabwe, but his style as a coach - patient, methodical, painstaking - is better geared to Test cricket. With the help of central contracts, four-day cricket, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, he has changed the culture of the Test team. But he hasn't done much for the one-day side. He should either have a rethink or step aside for someone with a real feel for the one-day game. It could be someone Fletcher would approve of, like Andy Flower, already a mentor to Chris Read and Alistair Cook. Or it could be someone Fletcher wouldn't approve of at all, like Adam Hollioake. Desperate times, desperate measures.
Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden Online. These days he just edits www.timdelisle.com.