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A return to the international scene as a coach has allowed Paul Collingwood to see first hand how the game has developed in the few years since he played
George Dobell in Barbados
March 8, 2014
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It is one of the ironies of England cricket at present that, in attempting to instil a new confidence and exuberance into the team, the management have decided to dispense with the most confident and exuberant player.
Now is not the time to get into the rights and wrongs of the sacking of Kevin Pietersen. Lines have been drawn; conclusions reached. Further debate is, like a radio phone-in on capital punishment, superfluous. No-one is going to change their mind at this stage.
But what has become apparent over the course of this brief tour is that a new spirit is emerging within this England squad. Without not just Pietersen, but other battle-weary and slightly cynical regular squad members, a sense of enjoyment and wonder has crept back into the set-up. Many of this T20 squad are young men still thrilled with all the travel, all the cricket and all the new experiences. It feels like a fresh start.
That is all well and good. But just how deep that recovery is we may discover over the coming weeks. Ultimately this team's mood will be goverened by its success on the pitch and, after an encouraging start to their new age in Antigua, the competition will become that much harder in Barbados where they face a West Indies team considerably strengthened by the return of Chris Gayle.
In the context of their grim winter and the early stages of the rebuilding job with which they are faced, England's ambitions for the next few weeks should be modest. To win this series and progress to the semi-finals of the World T20 should be considered a considerable success. The more realistic goal is to see improvement: to witness the continued development of players such as Jos Buttler and Alex Hales and see better death bowling. Anyone expecting more has not been watching.
The management of expectations has been a reiterated theme of England briefings of late. When Andy Flower said in Sydney that things may get worse before they got better, this is what he meant. The likes of Ben Stokes and, just below the surface, the Overton twins, are prodigiously talented but they are raw and there will be days they make mistakes. Ashley Giles and co. are at the start of a long-term process.
But, come triumph or disaster, the England management are also keen to encourage within the new team the retention of positivity and exuberance. They do not want safety-first cricket; they do not want a team that plays the averages or seeks respectability. They know that, to win major T20 events, aggression is required.
Certainly that was the message of Paul Collingwood the day before the start of the T20 series against West Indies at the Kensington Oval. Collingwood, captain when England won the World T20 here in 2010, is back at the scene of his greatest victory with the squad as part of a seven-week deal designed to bring new energy not just to the fielding, but also the batting, planning and positivity of the squad.
"When we won the World T20, our philosophy was 'we've never won anything being conservative, so we may as well have a go on the other side of the line'," Collingwood said.
"I'm a big believer in straying on the more aggressive side of the line. Not vocally, or anything like that, but how you play your cricket, with a lot more intent. You'll make mistakes along the way, but hope you come up with more wins than losses."
|I'm a big believer in straying on the more aggressive side of the line. Not vocally, or anything like that, but how you play your cricket, with a lot more intent. You'll make mistakes along the way, but hope you come up with more wins than losses Paul Collingwood on his 'brand' of cricket|
Losses are inevitable, though. So part of Collingwood and the other coach's roles is to ensure that, whatever happens over the next few weeks, England continue to play attacking cricket.
"I sensed when I first came in a bit of a lack of confidence from what's happened over the winter," Collingwood said. "But Graham Thorpe has worked fantastically well with the batsmen, giving the guys a simple plan and backing their ability. They bounced back well from being one-down in Antigua and the way that Joe Root and Jos Buttler played was exceptional. Michael Lumb and Moeen Ali can take a lot of confidence from the way they've played, too. It's amazing how quickly things can turn around."
The Barbados pitch, though nowhere near as quick as the surface on which England won the World T20 in 2010, will bear little comparison to those expected in Bangladesh. Spin is expected to play far less a role here than it did in Antigua or will in Bangladesh, with the threat of Gayle, in particular, likely to dissuade England from the early introduction of a spinner.
As a consequence, it is likely that the balance of the England team here will provide no more than a rough pointer to the one expected to play in Bangladesh. So, rather than allowing the likely Bangladesh XI more match practice, England will aim to win these games and hope that the resulting confidence is more beneficial than
"It's going to be difficult to find a strategy that will work here in Barbados and also would work in Bangladesh," Collingwood agreed. "Looking at the pitch here, spin is one of the things that could be hit a long way. Personally I think confidence is a key thing going into a World T20. If you can go in with a few wins under your belt, that is more crucial than going in with a settled team."
Nor will Collingwood be seeking to replicate the formula that proved successful in 2010. He accepts that the T20 game has evolved and, having recently returned from a coaching assignment with Scotland that saw them qualify for the 2015 World Cup, is admirably candid about his own limitations as a player.
"The game has changed a lot in those four years since we won," he said. "You would think it has got the same principles and the same strategies but they wouldn't work in this game. The scores that people are getting these days are a lot higher.
"Back then we went on a nine-game unbeaten run and the top score was 149 against us. That doesn't happen these days. The game has changed massively - for the better - and we have to come up with new strategies to overcome these powerful batsmen. It's no longer a nudge-and-nurdler kind of game.
"A lot of it about power and trying to hit the ball 360 degrees. For the bowlers, it's about execution: you've got to come up with different things, whether it be Jade Dernbach with his slower balls or whatever.
"There is no chance, absolutely no chance, that I would get into this England side. I wouldn't get in the Scotland team now. I told them that.
"The game's moved on at a rapid rate. Guys for Scotland were hitting it 100 metres and Afghanistan lost five new balls in the first six overs of a Twenty20 in Sharjah. They went out of the stadium. I've never hit a ball out of the stadium."
Collingwood insists he has no intention of taking on a more permanent coaching position within the next six months. He is about to enter what is almost certain to be his final season for Durham and, knowing the club has had to cut its squad for financial reasons, is loathe to leave them in the lurch. As he puts it: "Durham are down to the bare bones in terms of personnel, so to lose a captain would be a bit harsh at the last second. I'm determined to play for Durham this summer."
A future in coaching appears assured, though. And while there might be a certain irony in Giles and Collingwood advocating an attacking approach that was the antitheses of their own playing careers, it would surely take a gruesome set of results over the next few weeks to see the former denied the chance to build a new England and the latter appointed as one of his deputies.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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