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England will interview for a new head coach in April, and by then Ashley Giles could have cemented his position as favourite or be struggling to keep his head above water
George Dobell in Antigua
February 27, 2014
England and West Indies desperate for momentum
Like arriving for a job interview with blood on your suit and stains on your CV, Ashley Giles knows that England's recent form can hardly have helped his case to be the team's next head coach.
Giles, England's limited-overs coach since the start of 2013, has made it clear he would like to be in charge in all formats of the game, but goes into the ODI series against West Indies, starting in Antigua on Friday, knowing his side have lost six of their last eight ODIs and five of their last six T20 internationals. It is not a record that does his case any favours.
The final of the Champions Trophy seems long ago. Then, in June, England appeared to be pretty much on track for the World Cup in 2015 as a team missing the injured Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann went within an ace of winning their first global ODI tournament.
But instead of building for the World Cup, the foundations appear to have crumbled. Swann and Pietersen have gone, Jonathan Trott is absent and the results in Australia - England won one and lost seven limited-overs matches - inspire little confidence.
Perhaps it is unfair to judge Giles on such statistics. He had, after all, something close to a B team with which to work in Australia and, with Andy Flower hardly the sort to release the reins, has never enjoyed the opportunity to select or coach a side exactly the way he would have liked.
That has not changed entirely even now. With their eye, reasonably enough, on the larger prize - the World T20 starts in Bangladesh in just over two weeks - England have arrived in Antigua with a team of T20 specialists, missing several of their key ODI players. As a result, Giles is risking going into the business stages of the application for the England role with a record that could make it hard for the ECB to give him the job.
Underlining the inexperience of this England team is the fact that Tuesday's warm-up match represented Stuart Broad's first experience of captaincy in 50-over cricket at any level in his entire career. If Eoin Morgan is forced to miss Friday's game with a knee injury sustained in the field on Tuesday, England may have two debutants (Moeen Ali and Alex Hales) in the top five as well, with Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan little more experienced. Ravi Bopara, going into his 100th ODI, has suddenly emerged as a senior player.
Broad lauds Bopara's contribution
There are a couple of areas for optimism for England. For a start, West Indies' own form is little better. They have won just three of their last nine ODIs against Test-playing opposition and they are missing several of their best players - notably Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Kemar Roach - through injury.
England also possess, especially if Morgan is fit, an exciting middle order. The Morgan-Buttler-Bopara spine has proved an effective accelerator in recent times, building on foundations laid by the likes of Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Trott.
That has always been a controversial tactic. While some believe England's policy of accumulation has been their greatest strength, others feel it has held them back. So in this series, England will explore the possibilities of a more aggressive approach at the start of their innings.
Instead of Cook and Bell, England will have Luke Wright and Hales to face the new ball. And instead of Trott, they will have Stokes at No. 3. It could give them the fast start they require to take pressure off the middle-order. Or it could see them 30 for 3 and expose the middle-order.
"There will be a bit of a shift on how we play in England," Broad revealed. "You look at that Champions Trophy when we had a lot of success through, not being defensive, but stacking it up at the back end.
"But when you play abroad, as was evident in Australia, you can't be 130 after 30, you've got to look to be more like 160 so you're not as reliant on people like Morgs and Buttler to get us up towards 300.
"So I think there's a bit of change in mind set to push our score a bit beyond 130 after the first 30 to take a bit of pressure off the guys at the end. We've got world-class players there but you can't expect them to do it every time. The players are pretty excited about executing that."
Death bowling is another area requiring improvement. With Broad sometimes making the somewhat surprising decision to bowl his full allocation of overs before the end and James Anderson missing, England were sometimes badly exposed in Australia with a surfeit of slower balls failing to mask the lack of yorkers.
"We've got strong areas we need to improve on in ODI cricket," Broad said. "I think our death bowling is somewhere where we need our skills to improve. Of course that comes with yorkers and our change-ups and that will also help us in Bangladesh. The pitches there can be pretty good to bat on so getting up in the hole is important. The bowlers have been having a good focus on their yorker bowling."
England's training session was again hit by rain on Thursday, but without causing any meaningful disruption. While the change from Flower's influence to Giles' is not always obvious, it has become apparent that, at long last, the England coaches are ensuring that bowlers are not allowed to bowl no-balls in the nets or training sessions.
In a professional sport where attention to detail is advocated in all things, it has long been an absurdity that England's bowlers over-stepped in training but then expected to hit exact lengths and avoid no-balls in match situations. It is a small detail, but an important one and may yet make the difference between a win and a loss over the next few weeks.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala