I have never been so angry about a sporting catastrophe as I have been with England and their disastrous 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign.
The calendar torn up and the most successful national side in a generation decimated to fit in a six-month run of uninterrupted one-day cricket without the rigours of an Ashes tour. The result? An unmitigated cock-up, one that can not and should not be ignored with a brand of cricket at least 10 years out of date. Heads should roll for this dereliction of duty from the bottom to the top of the English Cricket Board.
Preparation has been long been the scapegoat for failing English cricket tours, and the idea that England’s poor World Cup record was a direct result of lack of foresight was allowed to take hold to such an extent that the schedule was specifically ripped up. It makes sense to remove the problem of the Ashes-World Cup double-header, with Australia one of the most notoriously difficult tours in world cricket, especially for the English.
But by scheduling the back-to-back Ashes series anomaly of 2013-14 for the long-term benefit of English cricket, the ECB inadvertently allowed rooted problems within their most successful Test side in a generation to fester. The break-up of that side, which had so spectacularly flown to the top of the world rankings in 2011, would not have occurred so ferociously had their employers not burdened them so heavily that year.
Jonathan Trott – crippled by anxiety that a punishing schedule only exacerbated. Graeme Swann – overplayed and overbowled with a chronic elbow injury and forced into an embarrassing early retirement mid-series. Kevin Pietersen – sacked for being a negative influence before revealing a worrying culture at the core of the dressing room in his “explosive” autobiography. Steven Finn – over-coached to the extent that he was deemed “unselectable”.
The back-to-back Ashes series, designed to give England a healthy shot at the 2015 World Cup, instead broke-up key components of a winning team, led to the departure of their coach and the downward off-field spiral of 2014. A new coach was appointed, Peter Moores, when any kind of background check amongst former England captains would have revealed him to be a spectacularly flawed appointment, and a new side was fumbled together as Sri Lanka and India toured that summer.
Paul Downton, the new managing director, had decided Pietersen was a disruptive influence and as a result backed Alastair Cook to the hilt in all forms of the game. His bloodymindedness blinded him. Cook was so obviously out of his depth in one-day cricket, and yet the decision to remove him from the ODI captaincy was taken only two months before the start of the World Cup as his disastrous form with the bat plumbed new depths.
By claiming yesterday that “no one could have done a better job” than his man Moores, he illustrated the fear and negativity that has defined English cricket in this form of the game. How could no one have done a better job when the remit he specifically set out before the start of the tournament was that a quarter-final place was the minimum expectation? Indeed, it is quite spectacular that England have failed to qualify from a group stage format so heavily weighted in favour of the member nations.
No one could have done better than the man who rued the absence of Trott at number 3? It is indicative of the Test cricket-prism that dominates the English mindset in ODI cricket that Gary Ballance was sought to play that role despite James Taylor’s successful audition in Sri Lanka and during the tri-series.
The sorry four-minute 45-second video that was hastily uploaded to the ECB’s youtube account in the aftermath of Monday’s defeat to Bangladesh as a face-saving exercise, served only to reinforce the board’s lack of grip on reality. Downton concedes that England weren’t one of the favourites for the tournament – a curious English affliction of managing expectations that can occur before, during and after every national sporting debacle.
Within the excruciating interview lie some rather banal and misguided excuses:
“We knew we had a young side, an inexperienced side.” – well you did sack your most experienced ODI batsman 13 months ago.
“We never established a solid base.” – you had six months of wall-to-wall ODI cricket to get this right and nevertheless made last minute changes before the opening game against Australia.
“Not many of our players play much T20 cricket.” – aside from Kevin Pietersen, Alex Hales, Ravi Bopara, Michael Carberry, Ben Stokes and Jason Roy, all of whom were either ignored or marginalised.
“What’s really happened in this tournament that has come home to me is that the crossover between T20 and 50-over cricket is immense.” – really? You needed this tournament to confirm a long-term trend in limited overs cricket? What have you been doing?
“The fact is we’re in a big transitional period. The successful side that we had from 2009 to 2013 has broken up.” – for blame, see your predecessors.
His apology for England’s woeful under-performance rings hollow. He is not blameless for the stats culture that has seeped into English cricket, he did after all appoint the man who preaches by it. The stats culture may be in danger of becoming a red herring but the extent to which it has clouded and cluttered the minds of England’s cricketers cannot be ignored, just take into account what Stuart Broad wrote in his Mail on Sunday column last month:
“So what about our death bowling? Well, the talk at the MCG is that you have to try to make the batsmen hit square because it’s 64 metres straight and 84 metres wide. The guidance here is that it is best to stay on the short side.
“Here’s a stat for you. South Africa are the best in the world at death bowling and they go at an average of 5.8 runs as compared with our 8.0 in the last 10 overs. So what’s making them better? The world average is 30 to 40 per cent yorkers in those last overs in the modern game and what’s South Africa’s percentage? 12 per cent. They bowl length outside off-stump.”
Stuart Broad shouldn’t know the world average for yorkers in the last 10 overs. Whether he’s right or wrong in his assessment is irrelevant, but his words represent a team that has been told how to play and what to think, rather than encouraged to act on freedom and instinct. The result is a team that plays within itself, to hit statistically agreed targets rather than over-reaching. The only way this robotic attitude can be eradicated is through a root-and-branch reform.
But wait, wasn’t there an inquest after the last World Cup failure? And the one before that…? Unless the ECB hold their hands up and take their share of the blame for this monumental underachievement then what hope does English cricket of recovering its credibility?