England news March 6, 2015

England urged to get in the swing

James Anderson can still swing the group in England's favour © Getty Images

It might be forgotten now but, in the early stages of New Zealand's thrashing of England in Wellington, Moeen Ali hit Tim Southee for three successive fours.

While some bowlers might have pulled back their length and tried to avoid being driven again, Southee went the other way. He pitched fuller and fuller until he found the swing that proved so devastating.

There was the odd short ball in there, too, but it was Southee's reaction - and the reaction of his captain, Brendon McCullum, who encouraged him to continue to attack - to adversity that defined that match.

Perhaps there is a lesson there for England? Perhaps England's bowlers can utilise that same logic to improve their own World Cup performances?

Certainly that is the view of a couple of coaches who are not currently involved with the team. Dermot Reeve, a swing bowling member of the last England team to reach the World Cup final in 1992, and Ian Pont, the Bangladesh bowling coach when they defeated England in the 2011 World Cup, both believe that England's bowlers are being held back by a fear of failure.

Both also believe that England's best hope of progression is to see their swing bowlers strike with the new ball. And both believe that the bowlers are so fearful of being driven for boundaries and so desperate to succeed that they have become discouraged from pursuing the plans that represent their best hope of success.

At present, England's two most experienced bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, are averaging 91 and 92 runs per wicket respectively in the tournament, with Chris Woakes and Steven Finn both conceding their runs at a rate of more than six an over.

"The England squad contains several good swing bowlers," said Reeve, who now lives and coaches in Sydney. "But maybe they are falling into the trap of thinking the Kookaburra ball used here won't swing.

"It will. It does. But whereas the Dukes ball - used in England - swings quite easily, the Kookaburra ball has to be pitched that much fuller.

"What we have seen in the first few games is that England have bowled a normal English length at the start and, when they have realised that the ball isn't swinging, they have gone shorter.

"But they need to go the other way. The need to bowl fuller, pretty much a yorker length and, if they do, they will give the ball the chance to swing. They need to err on the side of bowling full.

"It's no coincidence that some of the best spells in the tournament - I'm talking about Tim Southee's spell against England, Mitchell Starc's against New Zealand and Trent Boult's against Australia - all featured bowlers pitching the ball very full and finding some swing.

"England basically have to try to bowl yorkers with the new ball. If they do - and they should have their best swing bowlers taking the new balls - they will find swing and they will get batsmen out."

Pont, who has been utilised by the likes of Dale Steyn and Shoaib Akhtar as a bowling coach and who is currently runs a pace academy in India, takes a similar view.

"Anderson's weapon is swing, but he has lost that ability at the moment, he said. "When a bowler as renowned for his skill as Anderson has a problem it does make you wonder: it is a stress thing? Is he a bit tight; a bit anxious? Is he trying too hard?

"The key to improving is identifying the problem. If the problem is the players, they can be changed. But these are good players. We know that. If the problem is the coaches, they can be changed. And if the problem is the system, that can be changed. But if the issue is the culture... well, that's a bit more difficult.

"We have seen other sides swing the ball, though. And we have seen other sides benefit from bowling yorkers. It is a skill like learning to drive a car: if you practice it enough, you can do it.

"From the outside, it seems the problem is delivery of the skills under pressure. And it's not a new problem. There has been a long, slow decline in England's ODI bowling with no answers to the death bowling issue for a long time.

"England don't bowl many balls that hit the stumps. People say yorkers aren't the whole answer, but they are a big part of it."

Those views were echoed by one of the game's finest death bowlers. Waqar Younis, now the Pakistan coach, who suggested following his side's victory over the UAE that the balance of the game had swung too far in the favour of batsmen, still maintained that "the yorker is the best ball."

"There are different theories from different coaches," he said. "Some say bowl short, some say use the square fielders. But I still feel the yorker is the best delivery."

Both Pont and Reeve seem to agree that it is the confidence rather than the technical ability to delivery regular yorkers that England appear to be missing.

"The mentality of yorker bowling is key," Reeve said. "And the rest of the team have to buy into it.

"If you have the mentality 'this is an incredibly difficult ball to bowl' then you probably will fail. You may well let the fear of failure dominate your thoughts.

"But if you think 'I have a great chance to get a batsman out here' or 'I have a great chance to dictate the game,' then you will enjoy it and have a better chance of success.

"And yes, it does mean there will probably be some full tosses along the way. The captain has to make it clear he doesn't mind that and encourage the bowlers to keep looking for that swing.

"It's the same for the fielders. They have to buy into the plan and encourage the bowlers to go full. There is no point tutting or looking miserable if a couple of full tosses have been hit for four. They need to get behind the bowlers and understand their best chance of winning comes if they strike with the new ball.

"Moeen Ali is doing really well in the middle overs. But without a left-armer or a leggie, England's best chance of taking wickets is early and, if they don't, it proves hard to put the brakes on a team."

"My worry is England need the answer now," Pont concluded. "Because they could go out of the World Cup on Monday. Bangladesh beat them in the last World Cup, remember, and that 2011 England side was probably stronger than this one."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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