A wise man once said, if you learn from defeat, you haven't really lost. So what are we to make of the England one-day cricket team - a team that has learned an astonishing array of new tricks in launching itself into a soaring new trajectory, but has resolved to learn nothing from the catastrophic systems failures that have peppered its recent history?

At a time when England's one-day cricketers are attaining standards that their predecessors could never have countenanced, it may seem churlish to draw attention to the ones that got away.

After all, in 21 completed ODIs since a thrillingly competitive 2-1 series loss in India 12 months ago, England have won 18 matches and lost just three. In that period, they have galloped along at an average of more than a run a ball and posted seven 300-plus scores on the 12 occasions in which they have batted first.

With the 2019 World Cup now moving inexorably into view, there is no doubting England's desire to put two decades of one-day incompetence behind them. Sure enough, in his end-of-series summary, Trevor Bayliss, England's coach, finally uttered the unthinkable. It's time, he said, for England to start seeing themselves as favourites for the tournament.

And yet, those three stains on their recent record - and England's attitude towards them - are just too fascinating not to demand closer scrutiny. Steven Smith has already zeroed in on them, in casting aspersions on England's "risky" approach, and you can be sure that that scrutiny will be heightened as the World Cup draws nigh.

First came a setback against South Africa at Lord's in May - when a gung-ho attitude to a quality attack in helpful conditions led to the loss of their first six wickets for 20 runs. More recently, they reprised that shambolic scoreline by shipping their first five wickets for eight runs against Australia in Adelaide. And in between whiles, of course, came the most regretful malfunction - their Champions Trophy collapse against Pakistan in Cardiff, when Hasan Ali and an abrasive deck condemned the tournament favourites to a sub-standard 211 all out, and a crushing semi-final defeat.

On the one hand, the threat of calamity is understandable - when, in 1974, the daredevil Philippe Petit set himself the challenge of walking a tightrope between New York's Twin Towers, he did so in the knowledge that the slightest wobble could be fatal. Similarly, when Eoin Morgan commanded his white-ball cricketers to banish their fear of failure and find out just how good they could be, he had it hard-wired into their gameplans to fix their eyes on the prize, march sure-footedly over the abyss, and trust their nerve and training to hold sway over all other factors.

However, had Petit's tightrope been swinging in the breeze, or prone to fraying the further he ventured across it, he might have been a touch more cautious about planting that front foot.

Not so Morgan, whose response to each of England's defeats has not been to criticise his team's failure to adapt to the game that had just been played, but to criticise the conditions for not allowing his team to play the game that they had envisaged.

Lord's, he complained, had "a lot of live, green grass on the wicket" - "We saw the shots [South Africa] played when they batted," he added. "We couldn't play shots like that early this morning."

Cardiff, he claimed, had robbed England of their "home advantage" - "We were trying to take a positive option against them, but the conditions didn't allow us to do that."

And Adelaide? "Having five wickets down in the first ten overs [6.2 actually] and having not hit a boundary in the first 12 or 13 overs [14.3] really emphasised how much there was in the wicket."

Morgan's attitude amounts to a pretty brazen subversion of one of the hottest debates in English cricket. In recent years, England's miserable failure to compete in overseas Test series has been counterbalanced by complaints - particularly, but not exclusively, from Australian commentators - that their home conditions have been far too loaded for seam and swing bowling.

For one-day cricket, by contrast, Morgan seems to be of the opinion that every surface ought to be as flat as a pancake - no matter where in the world he encounters it.

There's certainly an allure to the sort of big-hitting showmanship that England have been serving up in recent seasons - who wouldn't be satisfied to witness a scoreline of 444 for 3, such as Alex Hales and co. racked up against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2016, or watch Jason Roy post a national-record 180 in hunting down a target of 305 at the MCG?

But it's not simply a desire to put on a good show that has Morgan wanting to take the intrigue out of surfaces. Simply put, the 2019 World Cup has become a one-stop opportunity to address a myriad of English ills - and given the prospect of ICC-curated pitches, designed to last the distance for 48 matches across six weeks, England appear to have no interest in processing any contest that goes against type.

It's a high-stakes gamble, as the Champions Trophy defeat has already demonstrated. But who's to say it won't have been justified come July 14, 2019, the date of the next World Cup final?


It's not simply the England team that has bought into this gamble. The transformation of the ECB's priorities this winter has been every bit as revealing. It's rare, but not unprecedented, for the one-day outfit to be better than the Test team (the 1992 World Cup finalists were one notable example). But never in their history have England seemed less willing to jeopardise the progress being made in the shorter format to shore up the decaying standards in the longer.

Take the case of Mark Wood, for instance - a cause celebre during the Ashes when it became clear that England's chosen Test seamers lacked the pace to compete with Australia's head-hunting trio. Wood's opening delivery in the first ODI at Melbourne was a whistling bouncer that sent David Warner, Australia's totem of aggressive batting, scurrying for the deck. And one over later, he had been clocked at 149.32kph - the second-fastest delivery that any England bowler had sent down all tour.

Wood's unreliable fitness was the major reason why he was not risked in the five-day format - and perhaps the same could be said of Liam Plunkett, another quick whose deck-hitting qualities might have been an asset during the Tests. But Plunkett was never remotely in the frame for a Test recall - as if, at 32, his remaining mileage is being preserved for England's most important engagement in a generation.

And perhaps, shockingly, the board has got its priorities spot on in the circumstances. It won't come as any solace to those who feel that England pulled their punches throughout a limply uncompetitive Ashes, but it cannot be overstated how vital a World Cup on home soil will be to the ECB's ambitions of sporting reinvigoration.

At a time of diminishing public interest, the board has placed participation at the very heart of its strategy, and as England's women demonstrated last summer with their own stunning triumph in the World Cup final at Lord's, there is nothing that resonates more loudly with the public than success in a truly global event.

The women's triumph - and the manner in which it was achieved, in a final for the ages against India - was recently described by Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, as the most "disruptive" event in England's recent history, and he meant that entirely as a compliment.

After all, England's men have won the Ashes in five of the past eight series, including four in a row on home soil, but such regular success has long since ceased to break new ground for the sport. To take perhaps the most obvious barometer of British sporting relevance, the likes of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes have never yet been shortlisted for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Awards. Anya Shrubsole on other hand...

The hosting of a World Cup is an opportunity like few others in the sporting landscape. By 2019, it will have been 20 years since England last hosted cricket's most prestigious global tournament, and the ECB's failure to seize the moment back then offers a vital cautionary tale for the current administration.

The team's group-stage elimination in 1999 was just one element of a more broadly incompetent campaign; one that was launched amid a contracts row, coloured by selectorial indecision, and crowned by the release of the tournament's official anthem a day after England had been usurped by Zimbabwe in the scramble for the Super Sixes.

England may have hosted each of the first World Cups, as if by divine right, but it was clear that the ECB had no idea just how huge the tournament had become in the intervening years, essentially from the moment of India's seismic victory at Lord's in 1983.

This time around, there will be no such excuse. The sport's zeitgeist may have shifted from 50 overs to T20, but the World Cup remains the most glittering jewel in the international calendar, and as New Zealand demonstrated in front of their own fans in 2015, there's even a cachet to be had from heroic failure, so long as the endeavour is abundant from first game to last.

That lesson was demonstrated in a different sport, in a different era, some three decades ago. In reaching the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, England's footballers showcased a sport that was as ripe for reinvention then as the ECB, for better or worse, like to believe their own game is now.

It would be stretching a point to draw too many parallels between the two events, except that the ECB has geared its entire strategy towards the launch of the new-team T20 competition in 2020 and - much as the Premier League emerged to the strains of "Nessun Dorma" - the fillip of World Cup success would be of immeasurable significance in raising the profile of the players upon whom the event will need to be marketed. Which isn't quite as sexy an incentive as the pursuit of glory for the sake of it, but when it comes to putting all of one's chips on a single colour in the hope of winning big, this latest gamble does seem rather more prudent, say, than their dalliance, ten years ago, with a certain Allen Stanford.

And so, with all that in mind, what does it matter if England muff their lines on a handful of occasions during the dress rehearsals, so long as it all turns out all right on the night? Nevertheless, the irony of advocating an era of seamless surfaces won't be lost on England's opponents, not least the team against whom they've just extracted a small measure of Ashes revenge.