I promise that every post won't be about cricket, but once more I feel compelled to write about the World Cup, this time from England's perspective.
England are once more cocking up a World Cup. Ever since 1992, England's campaigns have been a bit of an embarrassment. The 1996 tournament saw a hideously under-prepared England team who were used to playing 60 over matches with red balls and no fielding restrictions in England were shocked by 50 matches, played under floodlights with white balls and fielding restrictions in Asia. Laughable tactics, such as Phil DeFreitas bowling offspin and Neil Smith acting as a pinch hitter, were completely overshadowed by the other nations. The whole campaign was summed up by the aforementioned Smith vomiting on the pitch during a match against the United Arab Emirates. England progressed to the quarter finals by virtue of beating the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, but were duly knocked out at that stage having lost to every Test playing nation they had faced.
The ECB accepted that something needed to be done after that sorry performance, and the Sunday League became more contemporary with white balls, fielding restrictions and 50 overs. England began to play more One Day Internationals abroad, and an inaugural triangular tournament featuring England, South Africa and Sri Lanka was played in England in 1998. And, as tournament hosts, it was hoped that England could put in a better performance in 1999. Coach David Lloyd claimed that his team were "dark horses" in a pre-tournament article, and England began the tournament in super fashion, beating World Champions Sri Lanka. However, England were knocked out in the group stages (the day before the release of the World Cup song), after losing to South Africa and India.
From 2000 onwards, the triangular tournament became a mainstay of England's home international calendar, and the England team were now playing as much ODI cricket as the other nations, so it was thought that the 2003 tournament would bring better prospects for the England team. However, England decided not to travel to Zimbabwe to play a vital group game, thus forfeiting a victory, and after losing to India and Australia, they were once more on the plane home after the first round. The tournament was something of a watershed for the England team, with captain Hussain retiring after the tournament alongside long-standing players Alec Stewart, Andrew Caddick and Nick Knight. Michael Vaughan was appointed captain in order to build a new side for 2007.
Vaughan was indeed captain in the 2007 World Cup, but had missed the previous year of cricket through injury, and was never particularly fluent throughout the tournament. England were eliminated in the Super Eights, losing to many test playing nations, in a tournament that was also notable for the "Fredalo" incident.
So, to 2011. England entered the tournaments with a strong one day side. After all, they were Twenty20 World Champions in 2010 and had just won the Ashes in Australia. Yet, as ever, England are at their inconsistent worst. This time, things appear to be happening in reverse to 1996: they are playing well against the big teams, beating South Africa and tieing with India, but have struggled against the Associate nations. Why is this the case? Why has this England team, who looked promising, failed just like those who have come before them? The first reason, I would suggest, is the schedule. These players have spent four days at home since October. They have been playing competitive cricket for the past 6 months and have come to the end of the road. They need a break. The administrators have agreed to move the 2014-15 Ashes series to 2013-14 in order to avoid this happening again, which is a positive move. Secondly, they haven't had adequate subcontinental practice. This harks back to the 1996 campaign, where the players flew in from South Africa into Asia to start the tournament, and 1999 where, quite ridiculously, the England team didn't even practise at home, instead training in Dubai! On this occasion, it is because of the bloated one day series in Australia. The England team really should have put out a B team for that series, flying the Ashes winning heroes home, allowing them to rest up ahead of this tournament. But England, even under Andy Flower, wouldn't make a decision so bold. Thirdly, the big selection calls haven't come off. Prior is an excellent gloveman, but doesn't work as an opener, or even (dare I say it) as a one day batsman. Pietersen was beginning to shine at the top of the order, and it was such a shame that he had to fly home injured. That leads onto my fourth point. The injuries have shorn England of arguable their best batsman and bowler. As their best fielder (Collingwood) is no longer the force he once was with bat or ball, so isn't an automatic pick any more, then that is a serious blow. This ties in with my point about scheduling and poor management.
The final point is that, perhaps, the World Cup just isn't England's natural habitat. It's the same with the football team. No matter how well the team have been playing before the tournament or how well they play afterwards, something just doesn't click for the World Cup itself. What that is, I don't know. But, if the class of 2011 can't win the cup that counts, I'm not sure a future England team ever will.