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August 25, 2014
Ian Chappell : Australia, India and South Africa are World Cup favourites
Features : Cook at centre of England tangle
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Players/Officials: Graeme Swann | Michael Vaughan | Alastair Cook | Ian Bell | Gary Ballance | Alex Hales | James Vince | Jason Roy
Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan have joined forces to condemn the decision to persist with Alastair Cook as England's one-day captain, criticise the omission of Ravi Bopara from the squad to face India and insist that England are fatally destroying their chances of winning the World Cup by remaining wedded to an old-fashioned, safety-first approach overly based on dubious statistics.
The wide-ranging criticism of England's entire one-day policy, on BBC Test Match Special, represents one of the most timely and strong-minded appraisals to emerge from former members of the England dressing room for years.
Cook, who was retained as England's one-day captain after leading the Test side to a 3-1 win in the Investec series against India, would not be part of Swann's World Cup planning and nor would Ian Bell or Gary Ballance as he switched the emphasis onto a more adventurous approach.
"The good Test form has made it easier for the selectors to have a more conservative selection than most people want to see," Swann said. "Alastair Cook is the most stubborn man in the world. He has almost backed himself into a corner where he's got to carry on. I don't think we've got a cat in hell's chance of winning the World Cup.
"I used to sit in the changing room and I always felt we were so far behind other teams because we play such an old-fashioned brand. Some of my best mates - Cook, Bell, Ballance - are not one-day players who are going to win you a World Cup.
"I love Alastair Cook dearly but I don't think he should be bothering playing ODI cricket anymore. He doesn't need to. He has proved a very good point in Tests. Enjoy being England Test captain. Let young people play, people who want to smash it everywhere and win you the World Cup.
"We won't win this one, there's no chance, but in four years' time we might have a chance of winning a World Cup if we get all these young exciting players, people who have been brought up on one-day cricket and have none of the baggage of this old-fashioned style of cricket we play. We play a ten-year-old game."
Vaughan also contended that England's limited-overs squads are overly influenced by Test form and that they are bedeviled by a safety-conscious approach. England had the imagination to split captains across formats, but attempts to develop a one-day side with an obvious difference has largely been limited.
"After the Sri Lanka losses I think there was going to be big change," he said. "I look at Alastair Cook and he has proven all the critics wrong in the Tests. I was wrong; many people were wrong. He's been playing since he was 21 and this would have been the perfect time to move over. As a captain and opening batsman, he's taken on a massive challenge he didn't need to take on.
"We've made the same mistake now as we did in my time, five-six years ago and in the 1990s. We're picking one-day squads on Test form. English cricket has always had Test cricket at the pinnacle, but the games are so different.
"England are looking too much at these new white balls. The other teams have gone power at the top and all the way through. It's a completely different era because of T20. We got to a Champions Trophy in 2004 and we were rubbish. We just happened to get to a final in English conditions."
Swann only called time on his England career eight months ago because of a debilitating elbow complaint, but the change in personnel since then - with a new coach and national selector - allied to his own independent mindset has meant that he has quickly reduced his loyalties to an England dressing room in which he retains several strong friendships.
This impassioned criticism at the start of a run of one-day cricket which will take England to the World Cup represents an attempt by two recent players of high repute to change England's thinking late in the day, after a lengthy selection meeting ahead of the India ODI series which also restated their philosophy for the months ahead, believing that two white balls in a tournament in Australia and New Zealand justified a game plan based on a quartet of seam bowlers and secure batsmen at the top of the order.
Bopara's omission makes England's side harder to balance and both Vaughan and Swann were adamant that he should be recalled as soon as practicable. "I'm amazed and staggered Ravi Bopara is not here," Vaughan said. "He could be considered England's best one-day cricketer in the last one-and-a-half years. To throw away all that experience, know-how, bowling ability. I'd be amazed if he's not back in by the World Cup."
Swann called Bopara's absence "absolutely crazy", saying: "Ravi gives you so much more than batting - bowling, unbelievable fielder. I would build a batting order around Joe Root. He has proved he can score at a run a ball or more, play crazy shots, and bowls offspin. James Taylor is in incredible form. Taylor and Root can both score very quickly and they're your two proper players. I think someone higher up doesn't rate Taylor and it's a crying shame."
Swann also expressed impatience that the call up for Hales, a former Nottinghamshire team-mate, had taken so long. "Hales should have been in this side for three years," he said. "He scored 99 in a T20 against West Indies at Trent Bridge in 2012 - how the powers that be didn't see him as the future in ODI cricket…"
Swann's insight into the statistical-based mentality in England's dressing room has never been expressed as witheringly by a recent member of the side - at least not in public. "I know why they do this," he said. "I've sat in these meetings for the last five years. It was a statistics-based game. There was this crazy stat where if we get 239 - this was before the fielding restrictions changed a bit so it would be more now, I assume - we will win 72% of matches.
"The whole game was built upon having this many runs after this many overs, this many partnerships, doing this in the middle, working at 4.5 an over. I used to shake my head thinking: 'This is crazy'."
Most galling for Swann was Jonathan Trott's 86 from 115 balls against Sri Lanka in Colombo in the World Cup quarter-final in 2011 when he executed team plans to the letter only for Sri Lanka to waltz to victory with 11 overs to spare. "I remember Trott getting close to 100 in Colombo. We'd batted to our batting plan perfectly, got 229, everyone said 'brilliant' - they knocked it off in 29 overs. That's how we always played it. It's crazy."
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