England v India, 4th ODI, Edgbaston September 1, 2014

England ponder one-day puzzle... again

Peter Moores admits England have to work fast ahead of the World Cup but there is an all-too-familiar sense of chaos about their planning

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England need all-round improvement - Moores

It seems to be a characteristic of England cricket that, while other teams utilise the natural four-year cycle in the schedule to prepare their team for the next World Cup, the English react to the impending event like a long-married man who has forgotten his wedding anniversary.

Oh, they may rush to the florist and scribble a card. But the end result still tends to look ramshackle and hurried with a sense that they are hoping, rather than expecting, that things will turn out all right on the night.

The 2015 World Cup carries all the hallmarks, from an England perspective, of the five that preceded it. Six months out from the event, England are not sure of their tactics or their team. In a format of the game where role definition is so important, England do not know who will fill the allrounder positions - a month ago, you might have thought Ravi Bopara was a certainty. They do not know who will bowl at the death - the experiment with Chris Jordan may well be shelved. They do know who will bowl spin - Moeen Ali is likely to win another opportunity before the end of this series. And questions over the position of the captain will remain until Alastair Cook can start contributing more with the bat.

Suffice to say, after four ODI series defeats in five - and there is something of an irony in the fact that the series they won, in the Caribbean, came in a team sans Cook, when they were trying to provide extra opportunities to their T20 players ahead of the World T20 - they are not among the bookies favourites for the World Cup.

Peter Moores knows all this. He knows that he did not inherit a hand bursting with aces, after the retirement of Graeme Swann, the banishment of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott's illness. He knows the team are not playing well enough to win a World Cup. He knows he is running out of time.

"We've got to work fast," Moores said ahead of the fourth ODI of the series against India at Edgbaston. "We've got to accelerate the development of the team quicker than might be normal to get ourselves really competitive by the World Cup."

It was noticeable that, while Moores unambiguously backed Cook to lead England at the World Cup - "Yes, I'm confident he will" - he offered far less security to other players. In short, his message was, there are still places to be won in this side.

"What we're doing is we're trying to find a balance for our team," he said. "That's part of the process we're going through. We're creating opportunities and, if you play well enough and you show you can score consistently enough, you get to stay in the team.

"Our goal is to basically try to draw this series but also to prepare for a World Cup. To do that we've got to identify the right people in the right slots to play a brand of cricket that players feel they can deliver and be successful against the best teams.

"There's still time for people to force their way in. We've had a lot of change and that creates opportunity. We need to get enough experience in there but also there's a chance to try some different things. We've looked at different options and that helps you evaluate a side to play in that World Cup and win."

A substantial part of their problem is the form of the captain. While the value of England's ODI tactics can be argued either way - and the depth of feeling against their somewhat old-fashioned game plan does little to appreciate the danger of two new balls or England's success up to the end of the Champions Trophy - there is no avoiding the fact that, if they are going to field two technically correct accumulators in the top three, one of them has to go on and contribute a match-defining total.

It is not only 37 innings and 26 months since Cook made an ODI hundred, he has not reached 80 in that time either. If a player is going to devour the number of deliveries, particularly Powerplay deliveries, that Cook tends to devour, they really do have to produce something at the end of it.

But despite Cook looking in wretched form at Trent Bridge, Moores insisted the captain was inching his way back to his best. "I think his form is going the right way," Moores said. "If you come out of a Test match series averaging just under 50, you know you're starting to get back into some sort of form.

"He'll be the same as everybody else, in that in the last two games - after we've got off to two good starts - he'll be disappointed that he personally couldn't push on and get a more significant score. But he's hungry and his form is coming back. He's starting to hit the ball better.

"When he's in form, he's got his way of playing that can be effective in one-day cricket. It doesn't mean he's exactly where he wants to be, and I don't think we are as a side."

That is true. But Moores remains confident that it is not England's tactics that are flawed as much as their current failure to execute them. He remains unapologetic about preferring batsman such as Cook and Ian Bell to the likes of Jason Roy and James Vince.

"When you bat in any one-day international, the second part of it is when you increase your scoring rate," Moores said. "We have to score at the right rate for the pitch. There's been lots of talk about scoring 300, but that doesn't happen all the time. In different conditions you have to score what is a winning score on that pitch.

"You've got to have a balance in your team of people who strike the ball and also people that rotate, that's part of the job. You need to know you can create situations when some of your strikers, the Jos Buttlers of this world, have the freedom to play that sort of game.

"We know we have people who can score at a very high rate. Alex Hales at the top, then Eoin Morgan and Buttler. But to get to that point, you've got to get in and build an innings.

"The very best in the world are striking at 88, 89 in 50-over cricket. You can't really go much above that, unless you're batting in the bottom part and you're whacking it from ball one. Fifty-over cricket isn't quite the same as people just walk out and whack it. The best sides don't do that either."

This pitch should suit England. It has not been used for 14 months and is expected to provide little assistance to spinners and a bit more to seamers. With a 10.30am start in a distinctly autumnal September, though, it may well prove to be a bowl-first surface. The large crowd - more than 20,000 spectators are expected - might want to arrive in good time to see what may prove the key passage of play.

England's safety-first approach might not be popular but, on a seaming pitch in Birmingham, it may prove ideal. You might ask whether that bears any relation to the conditions anticipated in Australia, in particular, at the World Cup. But a drowning man probably doesn't worry about his pension.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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