England v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Edgbaston June 4, 2014

England must confront failings to improve

There were some admirable aspects to England's cricket in this series but they are going to need to rethink their tactics for the World Cup

England would be deluding themselves if they hid behind the unusual - let us not call a textbook dismissal controversial - wicket of Jos Buttler for their defeat at Edgbaston.

To do so would be to ignore the four catches they dropped in the Sri Lankan innings, the 12 extras they conceded in wides, their failure to bat through 50 overs and that several of their batsmen, yet again, batted without purpose.

It would also ignore that this was the third game they had lost in a series in which conditions were stacked in their favour. And, most of all, it would ignore the fact that, at the time of the Buttler incident, England were 197 for 6 in the 44th over. Twice they had gone seven overs in their innings without hitting a boundary. They were already coming second.

There were some admirable aspects to England's cricket in this match and in this series. The fight they showed in the field, the rediscovered bite in the bowling of James Anderson and the threat offered by James Tredwell were all impressive. And nothing in cricket is more certain than the inclusion of Chris Jordan in England's Test squad to be announced on Thursday.

But after another loss - their 10th in their last 17 completed ODIs - and another series defeat - their third in four series - it has become apparent that England are going to need to rethink their tactics if they are to progress beyond the minimum requirement of the quarter-final stage at the World Cup.

England's batting is their primary concern. Not only do their batsmen score too slowly - Ian Bell was the only one of the top six to score at a rate in excess of 80 runs per 100 balls in this series; Alastair Cook limped along at a strike-rate of 63.63 - but they fail to retain their wickets.

Apart from Buttler's century at Lord's - a century that did much to mask another generally dismal performance by England - their next highest score in the series was just 64. To put it another way, England's top six contributed four half-centuries between them in the entire series with Gary Ballance's 64 remaining the highest score. They continue to miss Jonathan Trott - one of the key men in helping them to the final of the ICC Champions Trophy - terribly.

They also missed an opportunity in this series. They missed the chance to take a look at the likes of James Vince, James Taylor and Alex Hales at this level. They missed the chance to try something new. They missed the chance to formulate a strategy that could serve them at the World Cup. Their selection, like their tactics, was timid. And timid sides win nothing.

So it is a shame that Cook would label Angelo Mathews' decision to sustain the appeal against Buttler "a pretty poor act" in the immediate aftermath of the game. While Cook, to his credit, also admitted that England's batting had been poor throughout the series and that their total at Edgbaston was 20 below par, he must have known that, once he criticised his counterpart, such confessions would be lost amid the fallout. Perhaps a stronger leader would have declined the opportunity to make excuses and admitted his side's failings.

England would be deluding themselves, too, if they hid behind the bowling action of a Sri Lankan spinner. Whether it is suspect or not - independent testing will reveal the answers over the next few weeks - England will face many similar actions around the world. The sooner they accept that the world has moved on, that mystery spin is only a mystery to them, the better.

In years to come, perhaps when Moeen Ali has normalised the doosra in England, mystery spin will be viewed in the same way as reverse swing: a key skill in obtaining movement on flat pitches. And just as England's mistrust of reverse swing eventually turned into acceptance and even affection, the same will happen with mystery spin.

It would be nice, too, if England simply stopped talking about the spirit of cricket. It is not relevant when their batsmen decline to walk. It is not relevant when their batsmen, in fighting for a draw, change their gloves and ask for drinks in order to use up time. It is not relevant when their bowlers sledge or try to persuade the umpire to change a ball that is not swinging. And it is not relevant when they lure coaches from opposition teams weeks before they face them in a series.

All such issues are seen - right or wrong - as part and parcel of the professional game. So to talk of spirit only when they lose leaves them looking weak, graceless and hypocritical. Only by confronting their failings and not grasping for excuses will they start to improve.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sudaththa on June 10, 2014, 15:59 GMT

    Wail said!!! George!! Good article...

  • Darsh on June 8, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    you said it George, you really did. well balanced article & pleased to read. I really hope Cpt Cook got a chance to read this.

  • Steve on June 7, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    Wow, this article is brilliant in its concise, ruthless criticism. Brutal as it is, nothing is overstated or inaccurate, especially this 'spirit of cricket ' nonsense, which we seem to pick up and put down to suit ourselves. I cringe when thinking of us begging Bell's reinstatement against India whilst defending Broad not walking after middling it! I have nothing against either action, just the two together. As to the ODI batting, the hopelessness of the top order makeup is well pointed out. Truth is, we are so far behind tactically we basically cannot win in good batting conditions unless Buttler or Morgan go mental! As for the doosra, brilliant parallel with reverse swing. Best article on cricinfo for ages!

  • Chucky on June 7, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    Well said Dobell, love to see articles like these. We were missing truth talking articles in cricinfo but this is brilliant. hats off! First to mention is what ECB done with luring SL's performing and stabilized coach in just weeks ahead of series. SL were in trouble though they didn't mentioned it. But the series win showed what they are specially in English conditions. Series loss specially in months of May, June, July will be heartbreaking to Eng. Yes its because of their lack of performance and they have to admit it without giving false excuses. Inability sustain upcoming mystery spinners is becoming habit. Its not worth blaming or suspect their actions but trying to overcome against their spells is what everyone should do. This series would have been ended very nicely if Eng had admit their lack of performance without making excuses for the failure. On the other hand SL are becoming more n more threatening to world with these performances and a Test win will make them superior

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2014, 8:33 GMT

    Well done George Dobell. This is the best article I saw in Cricinfo in recent past. Michael Vaughan should definitely read this

  • Praveen on June 6, 2014, 11:23 GMT

    Fantastic article, some hard hitting home truths there for Captain Cook!

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2014, 8:40 GMT

    absolutely everything in this article I wholeheartedly agree with. England have got to see how poorly we have played throughout this series in general. Personally I think one change that we need is to drop Cook from the side. I think Hales should be opening with Bell. I know that wouldn't change everything but it is a start. We need to start playing a more fearless brand of cricket as well, most of the series we have been so very stale in the batting. I mean at Lord's we batted for 25 overs or something like that without a boundary. Then we come on to spirit of cricket. Not just England but EVERYONE in the world need to stop talking about spirit of cricket. You play by laws, not spirit. No other sport do they complain about something in the laws by saying "it's not in the spirit of the game" it is a nonsense. Shut up about it. Mystery spin as well. Like George said, we just need to accept it and run with it. It's not going away. EVER.

  • John on June 5, 2014, 20:39 GMT

    Why are people talking about the Buttler dismissal on this thread?

    This is supposed to be about England's failings in general. Even talking about KP being reinstated (tired as it is) has more relevance. For me the main issues are that we pick test players for ODIs who are unsuitable. Also we are unflexible with our batting order. In the previous ODI we played Root/Ballance together when we were behind the game chasing a biggish total. They went at 4 an over which was disgraceful under the circumstances. That Jos and Ravi got us close should not mask what a poor show it was from the Yorkies. Not against both being in the side although unconvinced by Ballance in this format and I can see the benfit of them coming in at 3 and 4 on a tricky wicket chasing 230ish but what happened in the 4th ODI was just wrong. I'd like us to try and get ahead of the game when chasing which would also benefit us if DL comes into play and not always rely on Morgan and Buttler.

  • Dummy4 on June 5, 2014, 20:39 GMT

    It is all too easy to look at specs of dust in SL eyes and not do anything about the planks in England eyes. Do not keep looking for some excuse to justify defeat. The conditions were most favourable to England and alien to Sri Lanka. To get beat like this on home soil is a disgrace of the first order. To get out for 99 too was a disgrace. SL 67 run total needs investigating. Our British umpire did not know how to carry out his job. Jos Butler was run out. End of story. Why drag the fielding captain and create an unpleasant situation. Jos needs to learn not to use utter filth when he is on TV seen by millions.

  • Dummy4 on June 5, 2014, 19:55 GMT

    Very balanced. Nice article. Those grey men sitiing as ECB members and MCC hierachy will struggle to fathom your article and say cricket is what we think it is !!!!!!!!!!!

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