Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fundamental flaws in England's approach to ODIs away from home

Indian fans and pundits alike were hurt by their teams’ capitulation in England this summer to the extent they named the return series that began in India last Friday as the "Payback Series".

And if teaching England a ruddy good lesson in One-Day cricket was India's primary objective for this tour, then India have succeeded with devastating effect.

India have won the first two One-Day Internationals of the tour by a mile and have been better than England in every facet of the game. The likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli have scored big runs. Umesh Yadav and Vinay Kumar look dangerous with the ball, a far cry from the impotent attack that toured England this summer. And perhaps most surprisingly, India’s fielding has been razor sharp – much better than their English counterparts.

But while India have been very good, England have been poor and have gifted India these first two games.

Alastair Cook believes his side's problems are partly psychological, and certainly with only one win from their last 15 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in India, England may have a mental hurdle to overcome. But more worrying for Cooks’ side is that the balance of the team doesn't look right and their tactics seem to be just scratched in the sand, changing from game to game.

England have lost wickets regularly in both ODIs in this series so far, and that is of particular concern. One has to question why, for example, after his captain was out for a duck having won the toss and choosing to bat first, Craig Kieswetter elected to prod at a wide ball that did very little, giving his wicket away without troubling the scorers himself in Delhi?

Surely England's batsmen know that if you lose a wicket, it's best to be disciplined and consolidate for a period, rather than carrying on and losing further wickets in quick succession?

England’s bowlers are not completely absolved from blame here either. Apart from Tim Bresnan, who has been the pick of the bowlers in both games, the rest have struggled.

England have played three quick bowlers in both matches but with no pace in the pitches or movement off the seam of through the dry Indian air, 30 pretty tame overs have been sent down which, once the new balls have worn soft, give the Indian batsmen time to set themselves before using the pace of the ball to earn easy runs. As bowlers tire, so the more expansive shots become easier.

England should have learnt all this from the World Cup here earlier this year. During that competition, the teams that fared best took pace off the ball almost all of the way through the innings to make it harder to score runs. It’s fundamental stuff on the subcontinent.

England have Scott Borthwick in their squad, a young and talented leg-spinner from Durham, why not give him a go? Dropping a seamer for a second spinner may not rest that easily with England, but they have to adapt to the conditions.

Cook mentioned a mental block that England need to overcome to triumph in India, but perhaps the issue is more deep-rooted than that. 40 overs-a-side cricket matches are played on the county circuit in England as opposed to 50 over matches at International level and perhaps that 10 over disparity has an effect on England players, to the extent they rush and panic when batting and try and force the issue when bowling?

It's a theory, but by playing these one-day specific tours regularly going forward as the ECB plans to, England players will surely learn how to pace an innings better, when to push and when to consolidate, not to mention how to bowl to the conditions available to them; it still astounds me how few yorkers English bowlers bowl at the death when opposition attacks send down seemingly little else during the final few overs, for instance.

There are fundamental flaws in the way England approach one-day cricket away from the comforts of home, particularly on the subcontinent, and these will take time to resolve. They might not win this series, in fact they might be on the end of a bit of a hiding from India, but if they can begin to develop a more savvy approach to one-day cricket, it won't have been a wasted trip after-all.

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