English cricket lives for the Ashes. Did being overwhelmed so much, so often, take all their energy, attention and resource, away from limited overs cricket?
England need spin doctors for their poor image in the ODI format
England did not win the 1992 World Cup, but they were the best team at that tournament.
Indeed, that capped a longer stretch back to the mid-1980s, when they were among the three best sides in the format.
The real proof came immediately after the final loss to Pakistan. Pakistan arrived in England in 1992 for a monumentally explosive tour. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis led them to a memorable Test triumph, but England walloped them in the five ODIs.
That English side, which won the series 4-1, was frightening. At the top of the order was a pair of bullies, Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart (three fifty stands in four matches in that series). There was no softening immediately below them, since Robin Smith and Allan Lamb both were exceptional ODI batsmen.
The terrors lay in wait in the lower middle order, in the form of Neil Fairbrother and Graeme Hick, two different kinds of finishers. Hick could blow you away. Fairbrother’s batting was Chinese water torture, the drip-drip of his running driving opponents to insanity, and defeat.
That line-up produced scores of 278, 302 and 363 in that series, in 55-over games, admittedly, but against a legendary Pakistan attack. In the last game, they chased down a formidable 255 in less than 44 overs.
They had a healthy spectrum of all-rounders, too. Ian Botham was a genuine one, Chris Lewis a supremely gifted one, and in Dermot Reeve, they had a more modern, workaday option.
Derek Pringle was another option, so nearly the man of the World Cup final.
Their bowling was disciplined, but flexible enough to accommodate Phil Tufnell on more adventurous days, and Richard Illingworth on cautious ones.
They fielded well. They were innovative when needed, such as when they sent Botham up to open during the World Cup.
Because the 1992 World Cup was the coming of age of the modern ODI – the fielding, pinch-hitters, the coloured uniforms, the white balls and regulations – and England were at its vanguard, it felt naturally as if they would become the dominant force.
They could and should have been World Champions twice in that era: at the preceding World Cup, they only lost in the final by seven runs.
That was a long time ago. England did not lead a new age so much as get completely lost within one. They went from looking like the future to what they looked like on Saturday at Trent Bridge, in a six-wicket loss to India.
It was not a thrashing, per se, but it was one of those overwhelming matches that served as a schooling in how modern 50-over cricket is played.
On a pitch that helped his corps of spinners, MS Dhoni tightened a noose around England. None are great spinners. They do not need to be.
But Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja are impeccably modern ones, because they know how to bowl in ODIs.
Not only did England not know how to bat against them – a repeated failing – they made no space for one in their own team. More than anything, England looked outmoded, even disinterested.
That has not always been the case since 1992. On occasions, they have begun to look like a serious or, at least, competent ODI side, enough to pull out great results in unexpected places.
But mostly it has been a history of, what is the right word here – a dis-infatuation – with limited-overs cricket?
It is tempting to note that the last time England were good was about the time Australia were establishing an unbreakable grasp on the Ashes.
English cricket lives for the Ashes. Did being overwhelmed so much, so often, in the nearly two decades since the late ‘80s take all their energy, attention and resource, away from limited overs cricket?
Maybe, though perhaps not in the way we think. As Graeme Swann, the England spinner who retired from cricket in December, pointed out so witheringly during the first, abandoned ODI of the current series, do England over-complicate the format?
“I’ve sat in these [team] meetings for the last five years,” he said. “It was a statistics-based game. There was this crazy stat where if we get 239 – this was before the fielding restrictions changed a bit, so it would be more now, I assume – we will win 72 per cent of matches.
“The whole game was built upon having this many runs after this many overs, this many partnerships, doing this in the middle, working at 4.5 an over. I used to shake my head thinking: ‘This is crazy’.”
That speaks of a rigidity that just does not work in ODIs, or not in any case. Twenty20 and constantly changing regulations means the format keeps evolving.
The thinking behind it needs to, as well, and it needs to be understood that the format rewards spontaneity.
Swann was harsh, diverting attention onto individuals, such as captain Alastair Cook or Ian Bell. It is not about them as much as it is about the environment in which they exist.
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