England: Lions with faint hearts

Yet another World Cup. Yet another despair. Yet another first round exit. It hurts even more because unlike in 2003 where England were left to rue their decision to not play in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. So, no excuses this time. Losing to a team ranked number 9 that too in conditions that favour them. It just can’t get any lower.

With this loss, follows the familiar post mortem –

ENGLAND ARE PLAYING ODI CRICKET FROM THE 18TH CENTURY

ENGLAND HAVE NEVER PRIORITISED ODI CRICKET

ENGLAND GOT THEIR SELECTION WRONG

ENGLAND ARE PAYING THE PRICE FOR SACKING KP

ENGLAND DID THIS, ENGLAND DIDN’T DO THAT …blah! Blah! Blah!

Now, as an Indian cricket fan sitting far away in Mumbai, I can’t comment on how the English Board functions. We should leave that to the George Dobells, Andy Zaltzmans and the Geoffrey Boycotts.

Before I do the post mortem of the post mortem, let me just quickly summarise why England lost. Bangladesh deserved to win, because they were brave enough. Alex Hales was picked, but England paid the price by omitting Steve Finn, who has often proved more than handful for the minnows. Chris Jordan does bring in great energy on the field, but he’s not a bowler who will run through a side.

  1. England are playing cricket from the 18th century

Most experts slammed the likes of Joe Root, Ian Bell for their slow strike rate, but earlier in the day we saw Mahmudullah score a 100 of 131 balls. He won the man of the award, but no is saying that he played cricket from the 18th century.

As a matter of fact, ever since the two new ball-rule and more field restrictions have come into effect, most teams have looked to conserve wickets and go for broke in the last 15 overs. The average first 10-over scores this world cup has been 53. In the case of Pakistan, it comes down to 20-30 for the loss of two wickets.

  1. England have never prioritised ODI cricket

It took just a tweet from discarded Kevin Pietersen to squash this myth where he stated how England agreed to play back- to -back Ashes in order to play 13 successive ODIs before the World Cup.

Since 2014, England has played full ODI series in West Indies, 5 ODIs each against Sri Lanka and India at home, before travelling to the emerald isle for a 7-match ODI series.

And what better way to prepare for the World Cup by playing in the tri series in Australia, where they beat India twice to reach the final, and lost.

That amounts to 27 ODIS in just over a year. Not bad for nation which is accused of not prioritising ODI cricket.

That England were serious about the World Cup was further proved when after an arduous wait, they finally sacked Alaistar Cook as ODI captain, and disposed him. Perhaps, Joe Root would have been the ideal choice to replace him, but the ECB, the selectors, the team didn’t envisage that Morgan would fare worse than Alaistar Cook, notching 5 ducks in his last 8 innings.

An axe now looms large over Morgan and coach Peter Moores’ head.

  1. England failed with their selection

English side for most games read as Ali, Bell, Ballance, Root, Morgan, Taylor, Buttler, Woakes, Broad, Anderson and Finn.

Now on paper this isn’t a bad side at all. The surprise inclusion of Gary Ballance, who was returning from an injury was baffling. Alex Hales should have played from the first game, not that he would have changed England’s fortunes. But at least, his inclusion let a better balance to the side, than asking a rusty Ballance to bat at number 3. Mind you Hales himself was warming up the benches for long.

Besides, were there any players who were robbed of a world cup berth?

I heard Sir Ian Botham say how England should have picked Ben Stokes. But he’s hardly scored a run since his impressive show in the 5-0 Ashes drubbing.

With the exception of Chris Jordan, England possessed the same set of bowlers that dismantled Australia and South Africa in the Champions Trophy.

  1. England were wrong in sacking Kevin Pietersen

In the after math of this debacle, it’s natural that calls of “BRING KP BACK” will only get louder. However, leave aside all the controversy, truth is that Kevin Pietersen has hardly done anything in his last 9 ODIs, spanning across three years, averaging a poor 28 in those games, the last of which was played in 2013.

He was picked up for big bucks in IPL last year, but failed to get going as Delhi Daredevils finished bottom for the second successive year. He’s 35, and if England think that Pietersen will turn around their fortunes four years later, good luck to them.

Having watched English cricket for over two decades. I don’t think England have taken such an all-round squad to a World Cup. They had a good mix of youth and experience. Batters who can express themselves, bowlers who can run through a side, and yes, for a change they had two steady spinners too. Then where did it all go wrong?

What makes a champion team or champion players?

The answer is simple. Talent alone will not take you to the top. It’s how one handles the pressure situation without succumbing to it. That is what makes a champion!

Take a close look at England sports in general, and you wonder how many champion teams or individual players has England produced?

For all its passionate following of football, with all its money, and the influx of best players from the world, England still have just one World Cup to show that they won in 1966. The last edition in Brazil saw them knocked out in the first round.

England are a force in rugby yet have just one trophy to show having won the tournament in 2003, while finishing second in 1991 and 2007.

In Hockey, England has won 4 Olympic Gold medals, the last of which came at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The English though haven’t won a World Cup. England’s women too have failed to shine at the big stage.

Similarly, in another global sport, tennis, England had to wait for 77 years to produce a Grand  slam champion when Andy Murray won the US Open in 2012. He ended another long wait for England by winning Wimbledon in 2013. While those wins are historic, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the Scot has lost in 6 Grand Slam finals too.

England’s most successful sportsman in the last few decade has to be boxer Lennox Lewis. But will Lewis’ achievement satiate the appetite of a football and a rugby loving nation?

So, another disastrous cricket world cup doesn’t come as a surprise. As we’ve seen from other British sportsmen, they’ve often stumbled in the pressure situations. As a nation too, England is very pessimistic. The media, former players’ often keep deriding their team. This pessimism is ingrained into their minds subconsciously.

Now I don’t know what the ECB should do to change their fortunes. Perhaps, England need to switch to Nasser Hussain, a man who led England in tumultuous times, taking it from the bottom of Test and ODI cricket, and helping it attain some respectability. Under Hussain, England scored away Test wins in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and were very unlucky to not have scored a win in India.

Back then, England didn’t have great players yet there was a steely resolve to Hussain’s sides. He didn’t flinch if his bowlers refused to tour to a particular country, but brought the best out of his less talented but dedicated players.

He may have ‘poppadum fingers’ but Nasser Hussain played with a mighty heart. And English cricket needs one to breathe some life back into it.

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