I think England are going to struggle to make a big impact on this 2011 World Cup, and that’s not because their preparations have been so badly hit by injuries.
I just believe that England’s management need to have a serious rethink about their strategy in matches in sub-continent conditions, because there are a few issues at the moment in the make-up of the team.
First of all, the injury to Eoin Morgan which has ruled him out of the entire tournament is a savage blow. Morgan has been by a distance England’s best one-day batsman in the past 18 monhts, and especially in 50-over international cricket where his outstanding ability to pace an innings – and especially a run-chase – plus his cool temperament have been so impressive.
I could not for the life of me see why he was batting so low in England’s order during the recent one-day international series in Australia, and particularly that initially he was being sent in below Paul Collingwood.
True, Morgan did not make that many runs in the Commonwealth Bank series but he’s only played one cricket match – against Victoria in December – in his three months in England’s Ashes squad in Australia, and no one can come straight into international cricket with so little time in the middle and be firing straight from the off.
Morgan’s loss, though, hits England’s chances of World Cup success very hard – and for that reason I think England have to bite the bullet and make sure they get one more extra batsman into their final XI. To do this, one of the frontline bowlers may have to be omitted – and, to my mind, I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing because, in Australia, the England bowling line-ups were too attacking.
By that, I mean there was not enough attention given to trying to bottle up the Australian batsmen in the middle of their 50-over innings.
I think England’s bowlers have been guilty of trying too many things in 50-over cricket – in Twenty20 it’s good to keep mixing it up with slower balls, short balls, slower bouncers and all that kind of thing, but in the longer version of the 50-over game you need to employ more traditional ways of building pressure and not giving batsmen too much to hit.
In Bangladesh and India, too, the World Cup pitches will be slow and low as they always are in the sub-continent, and anything too short or anything overpitched will be seized on by the batsmen. They will be looking for those sort of deliveries to come at you – especially in the middle overs when the ball gets softer – and so England’s bowling plans need to be centred on a high level of discipline in terms of length, line and bowling accurately to specific fields.
In many ways, moreover, the faster you bowl on Indian pitches – without discipline – the further you will be hit, so I would like England to concentrate on taking pace off the ball. In this regard, I would look to use the slow-medium off-cutters of Paul Collingwood as a principle weapon in the middle overs, and also Ravi Bopara’s medium-pacers now that he has finally got into the squad as Morgan’s replacement.
There was a case for picking him originally, perhaps in place of James Tredwell who though a good cricketer is not looking to me that he can be a top-class international one. I also think that Michael Yardy’s low-slung left-armers are not so effective in 50-over cricket and I don’t believe he is as consistent as you need to be to bowl spin in that part of the world and get away with it against the very good players.
I am sure England are desperately hoping that Graeme Swann fully recovers from his back and knee problems before the World Cup is really up and running – given that the first month is spent merely getting the teams down to the last eight, which is ludicrous in itself – because his ability as a high-class spinner to attack or defend, depending on the match situation, is vital to England’s cause.
The other area which England must consider a change of tack is at the top of the order. Matt Prior is a fine strokemaking batsman, but he should not be keeping Ian Bell away from an opening slot and he would be far more effective down the order when the shine is off the ball.
My best England XI for the World Cup, given that everyone is fit to play (which, currently, is something of an issue in itself of course) is, in batting order: Strauss, Bell, Trott, Pietersen, Bopara, Prior, Collingwood, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson. If Bresnan is not fit, then either Amjal Shahzad or Chris Tremlett, who would then be drafted into the squad, would have to come in and do a job.
But I see this XI as the best way of giving Strauss as captain the option of a recognised sixth bowler (Bopara) as well as a deep batting order with seven frontline batters plus at least a couple of genuine all-rounders to provide added depth.
Both Collingwood and Bopara are, to me, perfectly capable in Asian conditions of doing as good a job as a second spinner such as Tredwell or Yardy.
I think that both Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott can do well with the bat, and with Bell and Strauss can provide solidity at the top of the order.
But England also need to be smart if they are to get through beyond the quarter-final stage, and overall I can’t see that happening. My last four would be India, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka – with India and Australia contesting the final.