A blueprint for England's World Cup campaign
Conducting a World Cup campaign is one big roller-coaster ride. The key is staying on track and building, while preventing the wheels coming off before a ball is bowled. In my experience of playing three World Cups, and watching a few thereafter, I am convinced you need to prioritise, place what is important first and not deviate from that.
The first priority I would establish is strategy. That means knowing the rules by which you will be playing the competition. These days the 50-over game is changing by the hour, or so it feels. Rules come and go, and at present it is mostly a dog's breakfast. Whatever it is, you have got to lap it up, so knowing how the rules work is rule No. 1.
Let's recap: the first ten overs have two men catching and two men outside the 30-yard ring. That hasn't changed for a while, except there are two new balls back in vogue. In Australasia, on true surfaces and smallish grounds, two new balls will not be a major factor and will only encourage the batting side to manipulate the opening Powerplay (the first ten overs) even more.
In good conditions down under, a run rate of six runs an over has to be the minimum. Therefore there is a need for two of the top three batsmen to be counter-attacking hitters. The bowling, in turn, must look to attack and restrict the run rate by taking wickets. With two new balls in use, the emphasis falls on selecting genuine specialist wicket-takers.
Next to know is how to exploit the field restrictions for the remaining 40 overs. For the non-Powerplay overs, only four fielders are allowed outside the inner ring. This has changed from five to four, for a reason no one has yet explained, except to provide a further imbalance between bat and ball.
Through these 25 overs, spinners are important, with their change of pace and the ability to utilise the 15-degree arm-straightening rule an added advantage to providing mystery. Some deem this necessary to balance the contest, which is a shame, but these unnecessary rules force the issue. The batting equation should be a minimum of 120 runs scored at the minimum rate of 4.8 runs per over. So after 35 overs, assuming the batting Powerplay is yet to be taken, a bare minimum of approximately 180 should be mounted, with ideally six or more wickets in hand.
A bowling mix of attack and economy is important, but a team needs to always be on the hunt to secure wickets, the best way to stem the run rate. At no stage must a field be set to defend a ground. It must be set to attack the batsman's wicket. From the batting viewpoint, good, instinctive players of spin are important through these middle overs; the ability to use feet and energy are the main attributes. Positive, proactive running between the wickets is necessary through this period, to force mistakes in the field.
The lawmakers have deemed that in the second Powerplay the field restrictions drop to only three men outside the ring. It's this dangling of the carrot that has messed up many an innings. Instead of working the gaps, which include the boundary gaps, batsmen get lured early and try to clear the fence in this five-over period, and get caught in their own web.
Posting five an over during this period is a minimum. The key is to not get carried away with trying for eight-plus per over. A six should be struck instinctively, not predetermined. For the final ten overs, the restrictions go back to four fielders outside the circle. Premeditated six-hitting should be saved for the last five overs, if resources allow. Overall, scores of 280-plus should be the minimum.
If the bowling side hasn't taken enough wickets through the first 40 overs then the death could well be looming. Anything from seven an over, up to ten-plus, can be gained if the bowling attack hasn't taken wickets, doesn't have options, and has lost positivity.
Bowling sides need a mix of four specialists and two allrounders - six being the minimum required, but the more options the better, as often one or two will struggle on any given day. Captains need to move through their overs at pace, not allowing the batsmen to keep reassessing the situation. Two stolen quick overs hurried through can be the difference in a tight match. Captains who are responsible for slow over rates are a liability. Indecision will lose you matches. Above all else, the captain must look to attack whenever possible, being proactive and inventive, always staying an over ahead of the game.
Fielding has to be of a very high standard, and generally the best fielding side is often the best team in the tournament. Each fielder needs to specialise in a position or area of the field to be truly effective. They need to occupy this position throughout, so the captain knows instinctively where each individual is stationed.
Let's add the personnel to fit this strategy and let's use England, as they seem to need it the most, to demonstrate how I would go about planning their campaign, even from afar.
First, I write down the best one-day specialist players in the country from 1 to 11, and alongside each, write down the next-best player for that position (two if possible). The same player may be put down for two different positions, but that just means that he is flexible. I am basing my selections on the wisdom of all the various England ex-captains I have heard in recent times, and from what I have seen on television, international and domestic matches included.
Openers: Alex Hales, Jason Roy, James Vince, Moeen Ali
Nos. 3 and 4: Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, James Taylor, Gary Ballance
No. 5: Eoin Morgan (capt), Roy, Ravi Bopara
No. 6, keeper: Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow
No. 7, batting allrounder: Bopara, Moeen, Adil Rashid
No. 8, bowling allrounder: Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes
No. 9, spinner: James Tredwell, Moeen, Rashid
No. 10, speed: Stuart Broad, Steven Finn
No. 11, swing: James Anderson, Harry Gurney
That is a starting squad of 22 players. Kevin Pietersen is included on the basis he is available. If he is not, as he wasn't at a previous time, then Bell moves up one on the list.
While thinking of the rules and the various set plays or periods, I select the team that can do those roles for those strategies. What I ended with was this playing XI and four reserves to compete in the next dozen one-day internationals. The 15 are:
Openers: Hales and Roy/Moeen
Nos. 3 and 4: Root and Pietersen
Nos. 5 and 6: Morgan and Buttler
Nos. 7 and 8: Bopara/Moeen and Stokes
Nos. 9 and 10: Tredwell and Broad
No 11: Anderson
Reserves: Bairstow, Jordan and Finn
Moeen becomes the left-hand option as a utility opener / No. 3 / No. 7 and back-up spinner. I make a choice between Bopara and Moeen depending on whether it's a seaming or spinning pitch, assuming both are batting well. For the bowling allrounder position between Stokes and Jordan, I select based on their attacking form of the day, or perhaps Finn is considered as the third quick along with Anderson and Broad, although this leaves Broad at 8, which is one too high. Bairstow, backing up as keeper / No. 6, rounds off the squad of 15.
Finally and importantly, Morgan captains the team based on his greater experience and specialist quality as a one-day match-winner. His job is to get the team through the overs efficiently and decisively.
This squad needs 12 matches to work and cement the strategy, settle combinations. That will also give enough time for slight changes, if needed, due to form or fitness mainly, most likely in the bowling department.
During that time the team needs to also find the unpredictable, something that the opposition wouldn't have thought of as they look at the current side. There has to be an element of surprise somewhere.
My coaching staff would be Ashley Giles, Graham Thorpe and Paul Collingwood, who all know the game first-hand and have worked in this limited-overs role before. The change of staff gives a fresh, specialist perspective.
Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand