Where England is going wrong

Published : Jun 30, 2001 00:00 IST

ENGLAND will not become a major force in one-day cricket until they update their selection policy. At present they are stuck in the all-rounders syndrome, looking for players who can do a little bit of this and that. As a result they are selecting too many players who do not have the class to be all-rounders in international cricket.

The prime requirement for all-rounders is that they should have the ability to be in the XI for their bowling or batting alone. If they are also capable of doing well in other departments, then that is a bonus.

Good or great all-rounders have always specialised in one skill or the other.

Gary Sobers was obviously a great batsman, who could also bowl. Ian Botham was a magnificent wicket-taker who could also score runs as were Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee.

Unfortunately, the current crop of English "all-rounders," while good county professionals would not qualify for a spot in international cricket either as a bowler or a batsman.

This has ruthlessly been exposed in the triangular one-day series involving England, Australia and Pakistan. When they have had to defend very good scores they haven't had the firepower or guile on flat tracks to gain the vital breakthroughs or slow the scoring down and exert pressure, and when runs have been required they have faltered with the bat.

Over the last decade, England have fiddled with various theories.

In the 1996 World Cup in India and Pakistan, "Pinch-Hitters" were the vogue and England tried just about everyone as an opener to pinch-hit, including Philip DeFreitas, a handy batsman on occasions yes, but as an opener hardly likely to succeed consistently, if at all.

While this pinch-hitter theory has been tried out by all countries, only Sri Lanka with Jayasuriya has been truly consistent. This is not surprising at all as Jayasuriya is a classy opener who bats the same way either in ODIs or Test cricket.

Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist have also been successful at the top and why shouldn't they? Both are gifted strikers of the ball and are naturally aggressive whether they open or bat lower in the order. They also always play within the bounds of their strengths.

If England want to be more competitive in limited-over matches they must build a solid structure.

When I took over Australia as coach in 1986 they were just about at the bottom of the international ladder and had won little for some time in either Tests or one-dayers. My belief has always been that cricket is a simple game and if we wanted success we had to get the best out of the talent available.

I have always felt that there isn't much difference between the way how Test cricket and one-day cricket should be played. Six batsmen, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers was our general line-up backed up by a couple of batsmen who could bowl and a bowler who was capable of scoring runs.

Our philosophy was the same as in Test cricket: to win matches you must bowl out the opposition for less than you score.

Boon, Marsh, Jones, S. Waugh, Border & Michael Veletta were our batsmen, Greg Dyer the wicketkeeper and Craig McDermott, Simon O'Donnell, Bruce Reid and Tim May the bowlers.

On paper the team didn't look very formidable in 1987 when we won the World Cup for the first time, as most of the players were virtually unknown. But many became household names shortly thereafter. It was, however, a very competitive set of players selected for their toughness, skill, resolution and the ability to fit in with our game plan.

Geoff Marsh was hardly a dasher, but he had the toughness, dedication and willpower to get big scores. While he was at the crease he held one end firm while the more talented batsmen took care of the run-rate. He could hit with great power in the later overs and his seven ODI centuries were a testimony to his value to Australia. David Boon complemented his best mate Geoff Marsh and he kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Dean Jones was our hyperactive No. 3 who kept everyone busy, including his team mates, with perhaps the fastest running between the wickets in international cricket.

Allan Border was the consolidator. He could keep one end tight if it was needed as it often is in limited-over cricket and brutalise the attack in the death overs.

Steve Waugh was handy with the bat in those days and a wonderful one-day bowler. He was quick enough to make the batsmen wary and had a wonderful array of shower deliveries. Undoubtedly the best death over bowler I have seen, he was known as the ice man, so cool, controlled and confident was he in this pressure cooker atmosphere.

Simon O'Donnell and Steve Waugh were the inventors of the leg spinners and googly slower balls. O'Donnell partnered Steve Waugh in the death overs and their cleverly disguised change of pace was seldom mastered.

Perhaps the greatest asset our bowlers had was discipline. They knew what was required of them or how to bowl to each batsman.

Bowlers generally decide the fate of matches and backed by superb fielding S. Waugh and O'Donnell were a formidable combination.

Undoubtedly, the 1987 Aussie team set the tone for fitness, one-day tactics and variation in bowling which is still the ultimate example to follow.

Prior to taking over Australia I had established that about 90 per cent of all matches in limited-over cricket were won by the team scoring the most singles. This became the lynchpin of our batting tactics. We were busy, busy, busy taking singles and harassed bowling and fielding teams into errors through sheer mental pressure.

If I was to single out just one thing as the reason for Australia's turnaround in the middle to late 80s I would point to a change in selection policy.

Prior to this period, when Australia were in the doldrums we had a shotgun approach. Numerous players were selected on one performance in the Sheffield Shield and as quickly discarded after one or two opportunities. This was unfair and wasted some promising talent. Without publicising it, the Aussie selectors of whom I was one, decided we would stick to some 16 players and give them every opportunity to succeed.

It was rather like filling in a jigsaw puzzle. We had in Border, Marsh, Boon, Waugh, McDermott and Reid, six players firmly in place and we built our team around them.

England now remind me of Australia in the early 80s. They are certainly using the shotgun method in the one-day internationals and England are suffering from their fashion, fads and theory approach.

They must show the way to a English recovery and back their judgment and players and stop looking for a quick fix.

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