Where the wild things aren’t – England vs ODIs

England dive headlong into another ODI series tomorrow with the first of four against Pakistan. We’re not exactly massive afficionados of the 50 over game, and we’ve been trying to work out why. ODIs can be compelling under the right circumstances, but more often than not they’re drab, lifeless and we’d frankly rather turn over and watch the bowls on BBC Two than try and stick it out with Bangladesh trying to overcome an India-shaped brick wall.

However, a large part of our cynicism (cynics, us? Shurely shome mishtake!) comes from watching England playing the one day stuff. We’ll leave out T20s for the moment – the bolt of lightning finally sparked that particular lurching creation into life last year when we actually bloody won something. Focusing then on ODIs, which in England’s case, to continue the previous awful analogy, is still a mangled pile of unassembled body parts missing a brain, we need to look at what England are doing wrong. And they are doing plenty wrong.

Over the last two years, away from home, England have won 8 ODIs, lost 14 and tied 1. We’re excluding home one-dayers from this analysis because different rules apply, given that pitches in England are, unlike most of the rest of the world, not just 22 yards of misery, pain and hopelessness for bowlers. England are able to win at home by virtue of the swinging ball and have consequently won 14 and lost only 7 in the same period. That’s not to say that there aren’t areas that England can improve on at home, because there are, but it’s just that they aren’t made to look quite so inept on their own turf.

Anyway, here’s a non-exhaustive and totally subjective list of some of the areas in which we feel England could improve drastically:

1. Powerplay batting

First things first, in the name of all that is good in the world, don’t open with a keeper. England’s thinking seems to have been over the last umpteen years that having a pinch-hitting keeper at the top leaves an extra spot open for another mediocre all-rounder. But the trouble is that there are pretty few wicketkeeper-batsmen who can pull it off, especially given that the tactics seem to be close your eyes and have a swing. Adam Gilchrist could pull it off, but he was a freakishly good player and we ain’t got one like him. Kieswetter, who seems to be the man with the gloves at the moment, showed on the recent Lions tour in Sri Lanka that he’s pretty happy at number 5 or 6, so let’s BAT HIM WHERE HE’S COMFORTABLE. Pretty please. England are going with KP opening in this series, which could be inspired, but could be comical. Isn’t there a single specialist opener in England who is capable of doing the job?

The other thing about powerplay batting is that it needs calculated risk-taking (NB not pinch-hitting). The theory seems to be that given that we’ve got to fit ‘steady’ Alastair Cook in somewhere, we need to have someone else who acts as a counterpoint to him, i.e. a slogger. No. Just play a few shots over the top of the infield and tick along at between 5 and 6 an over. This is pre-school stuff and virtually every other side in the world seems to have worked it out.

2. Be flexible

As far as England are concerned, it seems to us that batting orders are writ in stone tablets and handed down from the equivalent of Mt Sinai by coach / captain, to be obeyed at all costs. Why can’t we be a bit more flexible? Look at how Pakistan use Afridi, or South Africa use Albie Morkel. Too often we seem to be stuck with Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan, or other, less memorable all-rounders, coming in with 5 overs to go and just slogging aimlessly. Why not bring Graeme Swann in at 3 if we lose a wicket after a quick start rather than losing all momentum by bringing in Jonathan Trott to plod along with Cook? Having said all that, this chap Jos Buttler looks like he could be just the ticket.

3. Inventive captaincy

Not bloody likely with Alastair Cook. Next.

4. Ditch the bit-part players

England badly need to find a top-order batsman who bowls properly, a la Shane Watson or Jacques Kallis. Ravi Bopara does not count. The trouble is that 5 bowlers is a minimum requirement in ODIs. However, the England coaching set-up must really have something personal against bowlers, given that it seems to be their aim to include as few of them as possible in Test matches and to ditch them in ODIs in favour of batsmen who can trundle in for 5 overs or so. Samit Patel should not be relied upon to bowl 10 overs, given that it seems he can’t be relied upon to go that long without eating another cake, and I’m sorry Ravi, it’s nothing personal, but you’re just not a very good cricketer really.

If all that fails, then we should just admit that we’re not very good at this ridiculous shorter game which is destroying techniques and encouraging the young lads of today to be sloggers. We should be bloody grateful when we get a good day of Test cricket with a run-rate less than 2 an over, just to remind everyone what the game is really about. And this coloured clothing lark will never catch on.

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