Scotland v England, only ODI, Aberdeen May 8, 2014

England's no-win trip north

Scotland will aim to take advantage of England's vulnerability in a fixture that does little to aid the long-term planning of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook

Win and it is only to be expected; lose and it is a humiliation. Peter Moores' second stint as England coach begins with as close to a no-win fixture as is possible.

England should prove too strong for Scotland. Despite recent setbacks, England are No. 4 in the ODI rankings and reached the final of the last global ODI tournament. Their players enjoy every advantage of modern professionalism and several of them have played more than 100 ODIs. Some of Scotland's players have to fit cricket in around their day jobs.

But this game has many of the ingredients for an upset. Scotland, highly motivated and resurgent having recently qualified for the World Cup, have nothing to lose and know that, after a chastening winter, England cannot be high on confidence. It would be stretching things a bit far to say they smell blood, but they certainly sense vulnerability. Netherlands' victory over England has shown what is possible

England, meanwhile, have not played any white ball cricket this season. They have never played an ODI so far north - Kyle Coetzer, Scotland's captain, proudly described it as the most northerly ODI venue in the world - and, in doing so in early May in a match starting at 10.30am and incorporating two new balls, know that batting could be something of a lottery at times. Poor weather could also intervene - it would be a surprise if it didn't - increasing the prospect of a shortened run chase, bowlers struggling to grip slippery balls and Duckworth-Lewis inspired frustration.

It would be wrong to decry the pitch, though. New Zealand scored 400 here in an ODI in 2008 and seven men have registered ODI centuries on the ground. But the boundary is small, the outfield on Thursday surprisingly wet and the sell-out crowd likely to be heavily partisan. It all faintly evokes memories of first-class sides being embarrassed at the home of minor county teams in the Gillette Cup.

One thing England should not be is complacent. Indeed, after the shock of the Netherlands defeat - a defeat that might well have cost Ashley Giles his job - and the thrashings in Australia, it remains to be seen if England's scars have healed. It was a lack of confidence, not a surfeit of it, which was their main weakness in Bangladesh.

There is a sense that Moores, at the start of this new era for England, is keen to help the team rediscover the simple pride and joy of representing their country and playing a game they love for a living. As Alastair Cook admitted, there were times in Australia, in particular, when they forgot that.

"You have to remember how lucky we are to wear the shirt and play for your country," Cook said. "Sometimes after a long period away, you forget that. Last winter is probably a reminder of that. When you lose games of cricket it becomes very hard.

"Now we've all had bit of time away from the game, it's been a good time to reflect and realise how special it is to be playing for England. We have to remember that at all times. Chatting to a few of the guys who are no longer playing, they say it's the best days of your life even in tough times."

Furthermore, with 21 ODIs to play until the World Cup starts, places are at stake in both sides. This England team has only been assembled for this game so performances here will influence selection for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka, which will be named on Tuesday.

Most urgently, England need to find some reliable 'death' bowlers - not a strong area in county cricket at present - and decide on their top-order batting tactics.

Harry Gurney, a left-arm bowler of sharp if not express pace, might be one answer. He has developed a good record in domestic white-ball cricket and could partner James Anderson or Stuart Broad in Powerplays and at the end of an innings. Ravi Bopara, who Alastair Cook revealingly named as one of two colleagues (Broad was the other) he consulted before deciding to continue as captain, is another underutilised 'death' option. Chris Jordan, who has looked the most dangerous new-ball bowler in England this season, rarely does the job for Sussex and struggled when pressed into service in the role in the Caribbean.

There is a sense that England would like to take a more aggressive approach to the first 15 overs of their innings. The argument for such a tactic is that, on the batsmen-friendly tracks anticipated for most of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, England's traditional steady approach will not generate the huge totals that may be needed to prevail.

But Aberdeen in May is not the place to experiment with aggressive top-order batting. It may well be that the games played against Sri Lanka offer little more help, either. England continue to be hindered by their scheduling.

Besides, Cook believes that the best players have the ability to adapt. So those players who are suited to seeing England through the new ball in Aberdeen should, if Cook is to be believed, also prove the men to get them off to a flyer in Perth and Brisbane.

"One of skills you need as an international cricketer is the ability to play in different conditions," Cook said. "You're challenged wherever you play in the world. The best players adapt and find a way of delivering results. The wicket here looks good, but it won't be an absolute belter, so going hard would be foolish."

But preparing for a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand by playing in Aberdeen in May is like preparing for a sprint by going ice-skating.

All of which begs the question: why is this game taking place? The politically correct answer is that the ECB and ICC want to provide some encouragement to an Associate neighbour. But the fact that England have played only two of their previous 616 ODIs against Scotland, does not suggest that encouragement is especially effusive.

If the ECB really wanted to support Associate cricket, it would lobby the ICC to push for cricket to be accepted as an Olympic sport. Until it does, matches like this are little more than a perfunctory sop.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rob on May 9, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    How thing a waste of time and money. A fixture not to bother repeating.

  • Dummy4 on May 9, 2014, 7:56 GMT

    "But the fact that England have played only two of their previous 616 ODIs against Scotland, does not suggest that encouragement is especially effusive."

    I know England-bashing is a popular sport in itself on Cricinfo, but it's a bit rich to single us out on this point - the fact is that England are one of the few international teams to regularly provide an associate (Ireland or Scotland) with an ODI fixture every year, unlike India or South Africa who only play the associates in tournaments (ie when they don't have a choice).

  • David on May 9, 2014, 5:17 GMT

    @ Devinda Daulagala asked "Which Global final did England make it to in the recent past??? Mmmmm like the last 10 years or so?"

    Devinda, it seems you know little about global cricket. England played in the final of the Champion's Trophy in 2013, and WON the World T20 in 2010. Both tournaments are Global Cricket Events, staged by the ICC.

    When was Devinda Daulagala last well informed about Global Cricket? Mmmmmmmm, like 10 years ago or so?

  • David on May 9, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    "England are No. 4 in the ODI rankings and reached the final of the last global ODI tournament" in which Jonathan Trott, England's top run maker, was a vital link in the chain, scoring fifty more runs than the 2nd placed Joe Root.

    The Champion's Trophy was a year ago. Since then England have slid downhill faster than an Olympic bobsled team. Runner up a year ago, with a different team & coach, means little today. Past glories, or almost glories, reflect not the present!

  • rob on May 9, 2014, 0:20 GMT

    I couldn't agree more that matches like this are nerve racking because there's little to gain by winning but heaps to lose if you get rolled. Still, it's that sort of thing that builds character in a team. Life is full of annoyances and taking on things like this match will actually do something to shape the future attitude of your team. You can't take out more than you put in so I think this game is an important test of where Englands mentality is really at. .. If England go into the game with the same attitude as the author of the article they deserve to go down heavily. I think it comes across as a very negative piece and that's not a good way to go for any sporting team imo.

  • Kate on May 8, 2014, 19:51 GMT

    Incredible to think How The Netherlands who beat England recently in T20 with consummate ease are left this summer with no (and I mean zero) home international fixtures. They lost their ODI status because of 1 one off tournament in New Zealand. Anyone who follows Associate cricket and maybe those who don't know that the Orange team are far stronger than the Blue one.

  • Dummy4 on May 8, 2014, 19:01 GMT

    Labelling the fixture "little more than a perfunctory sop." does little to encourage interest in the game; better that this fixture (and the relationship between England and Scotland) is given the treatment Scottish cricket deserves and write about it being an opportunity.

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