England’s ODI revival

Under Eoin Morgan’s leadership, England’s limited-overs team has improved vastly after the humiliating exit in the 2015 World Cup.

A jubilant England skipper Eoin Morgan (foreground) leads his players back to the pavilion after winning the third ODI against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. To his left is Ben Stokes celebrating the victory. England, who posted a World record 444/3, won the match by 169 runs.   -  Getty Images

The massive improvement made by the England team in one-day cricket makes them one of the favourites to win the ICC World Cup in 2019. And if England win, it could well be the third consecutive time that a host country has won the World Cup, after India did it in 2011 and Australia followed suit in 2015.

England’s turnaround started with a change in thinking, approach and attitude. The selectors did not go by Test match reputations but picked players who fitted in the limited-overs format. New Zealand, under Brendon McCullum, were in England, and the English players saw how the Kiwis approached their innings. They decided to do the same.

 

England went for broke from the first ball and successfully chased down the massive totals put up by New Zealand. The English supporters just couldn’t believe their eyes, as they saw more than 600 runs being scored in almost all the ODI matches in the series between England and New Zealand. A lot of credit should go to Eoin Morgan, the skipper, who is a terrific batsman in this format of the game. Under his leadership, the English team has transformed itself after the humiliating exit in the 2015 World Cup. Paul Farbrace, who is the assistant coach of the team now, was in charge of England when they played New Zealand after the World Cup, as Trevor Bayliss had not yet taken charge. Farbrace too encouraged the players to go out and play freely.

It is no wonder then that England recently set a World record when they scored 444 runs in the third ODI against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, which they went on to win comfortably and seal the series. Pakistan didn’t seem to learn from their earlier mistakes. Wahab Riaz went for 110 runs in his quota of overs, and seeing his performance after the World Cup in Australia, it is clear that the Pakistani is still living on memories of the spell he bowled to Shane Watson where he had the Aussie hopping and jumping. However, after that Riaz has hardly done anything of note and if anything, has gone down in the pecking order after the return of Mohammad Amir to the Pakistan attack.

Amir too came back with high hopes, but it is never easy to get back to international cricket if one is not playing at that level regularly. Though he bowled some good spells, Amir never looked like he was going to win a match for Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan’s fielding in the slips was appalling. The fielders kept dropping catches off Amir and Co., but still the England batsmen, after the first Test, played Amir with ease and never seemed to be in any trouble while facing him.

Pakistan’s defeat in the limited-overs series has unsurprisingly sparked calls for Azhar Ali’s sacking as the skipper of the team. This is so typical of the sub-continent, where the moment a team loses scapegoats have to be found. The first ones that come up are the captains and coaches. There are always some with ambitions to be captain and coach and so they will, through their agents in the circuit, start pitching for a change at the top. Everybody conveniently forgets that captains are only as good as their teams, and so is the case with coaches.

We have innumerable examples of so-called super coaches who have come a cropper when given the job of coaching less-talented teams. There has to be maturity in approaching a defeat. They should see what went wrong rather than point fingers at the captain and coach straight away. The most crucial thing is to see what the work ethic was and what sort of tactical inputs the team was getting. If these were below par, then yes, a change is called for. However, if these were good then one has to accept that the opposition was better and so deserved to win.

Australia lost all three Test matches against Sri Lanka recently, but nobody down under has been screaming for the heads of Steven Smith and Darren Lehman. Instead, they have accepted that much more needs to be done to get better at playing on the sub-continent pitches.

The Aussies will do their homework (not the kind Mickey Arthur wanted), so don’t be surprised if they fare better in the series against India in February next year.