England at the Cricket World Cup

And I am actually fairly positive about the 2015 World Cup.  For once, England are not coming straight out of a tiring Ashes campaign and the Australian conditions should play to their strengths.  If England can keep this same band of players together, bringing in new talent and developing the youngsters (such as Jos Buttler) then they have a real chance of at least making the final, I would say.

Me, June 2013

Not my finest prediction. Whoops.

I set this blog up almost exactly four years ago to have a moan about England’s World Cup performances last time around.  And I wrote a post that discussed past performances and how England have attempted to move things on after each failed campaign.  So I won’t rehash that again.

But, I do want to examine where this four-year cycle has fallen apart.  England turned up to this World Cup with a captain who was appointed in December, who had no say over his squad and with (what can politely described as) a muddled selection policy.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Don’t forget, the Ashes cycle was disrupted in order to aid preparation for this tournament (so that England didn’t go from an away Ashes tour straight into a World Cup).

It is not a new phenomenon for a desire for rebuilding after a failed World Cup campaign – I detailed a number of them in my post four years ago.  Notably, Michael Vaughan deliberately selected a young team in the 2003 NatWest Series in order to put together the rump of a side that would challenge in 2007.  And then, after the unsuccessful 2007 campaign, a separate ODI captain (Paul Collingwood) was appointed to build towards the 2011 tournament.  Of course, neither plan really came to fruition.  Michael Vaughan’s injury problems meant that he came into the 2007 tournament without having built the team around him.  And then, Paul Collingwood’s resignation in 2008 meant that the test team came first once again, as a united captaincy was seen as the way forward for a fractured dressing room.

Alastair Cook’s appointment in 2011 was a blatant attempt maintain a connection the Test and ODI sides.  Cook was the heir-apparent to Strauss with the Test captaincy and the ODI team was seen as a way for him to gain some leadership experience.  Many people remarked at the time how it seemed wrong for a player who had not even been selected for the World Cup was now appointed captain of the team.  The alternative argument was that with Strauss’ retirement, Cook would fulfil the same role that Strauss had played at the top of the order.  It was fair enough to give Cook a chance, and the initial results were good, with series wins over Sri Lanka and India.  It, of course, was the case that in the mid-00s, England would periodically perform well in their own conditions, so this was nothing new, but at least the team was playing well.

England’s 5-0 series loss in India in late-2011 was a blow, and a sign that this was a team that were not quite world beaters.  But, the side was depleted (with players who played across formats being rested), and England at least righted wrongs against Pakistan (in the UAE) in 2012.  A series win against the West Indies, and a drawn series against South Africa at home in 2012 led England to the top of the ODI world rankings.

At this point, England’s ODI cricket appeared to be in decent shape.  A team was evolving, based around Cook and Trott anchoring the batting (with flair players batting around them), and bowling from Anderson, Finn, Dernbach and others.  Whilst they were playing a particular ‘brand’ of ODI cricket that didn’t always come off, they were at least being successful more often than not.  At this stage in a World Cup-cycle, England appeared to be in a good shape.  This was reinforced by their 2013 Champions Trophy showing, where they were runners up, and arguably should have won a close final against India.

But, I would suggest that this was where things began to go wrong, half-way through the four-year World Cup cycle.  Australia beating England in the ODI series at the end of the 2013 summer was a blow, but English cricket as a whole was blown away by the mauling by Australia in the 2013/14 Ashes.  Unfortunately, this had ramifications to the ODI team, as well as the test team.  Cook’s confidence was shattered as captain, and the whole England team were falling apart.  Destruction at the hands of Australia, was followed by a poor showing in the 2014 summer.  This is when England should have acted and replaced Cook as ODI captain at the start of the 2014 summer.  At this point, it was far enough away from the World Cup to be a viable move, and it would have regenerated the ODI team ahead of the World Cup build-up.

What has happened in the recent months has been well-documented.  However, it seemed that between 2011 and 2013 England were going in the right direction with their ODI cricket (as I argued in the quoted blog post from June 2013).  It has been the last year in which the damage has been done and, again, England will crash out of the World Cup, in all likelihood without beating a test playing nation.  Once again, the four year cycle has not ended the way it was intended to – England’s plans have gone awry.

So, what next?  I strongly feel that the ODI team should be run separately to the test team, with a different captain and not necessarily the same players.  Morgan should stay on as captain, at least for now, and mould the team around him.  Get an attacking brand of cricket going.  Then, at some point before 2019, if it looks like Morgan will not last the distance, replace him as captain with Root.  Players can come and go within the cycle, that’s fine, but get the brand of cricket established and don’t let the fortunes of the test team get in the way.

The 2019 World Cup will be the first held in England for 20 years and wouldn’t it be good if England could compete for the first time since 1992 on the biggest stage of all?  The foundations need to be laid now, and England shouldn’t be distracted from the course by the fortunes of the test match team.