Even if England manage to beat the West Indies in their final group match I cannot see them progressing beyond the quarter-finals of this World Cup.
And, unless there is a remarkable turnaround in form and performance, I think that there needs to be a serious examination of England’s entire approach to this tournament because, in my view, there are an awful lot of questions that must be asked.
I am sure England have gone into matches with gameplans, but when those gameplans have not worked – either because they have not been good enough or have not been implemented well enough – things have looked to be a right muddle.
Andrew Strauss, as captain, and the management will have to take some of the flak if England’s World Cup does end badly, but I also believe the players have to shoulder a lot of the blame because some of the cricket they have played has just been naive.
Then there is the question of selection: both in terms of the original squad of 15, and in the selection of team line-ups for certain matches. Again, to me this has looked very muddled. We seem to have been going around in circles; for instance, why was Matt Prior asked to open the batting again when it was clear in Australia that he is not best-equipped to do so in a 50-over international?
When Kevin Pietersen went home injured – and that in itself is a very strange episode to my mind – it was obvious that Ian Bell should have been promoted to open simply because he has the technique and aptitude for it and because Eoin Morgan, as Pietersen’s replacement, would be coming into Bell’s middle-order area.
The other alternative would have been for Jonathan Trott to be sent in first with Strauss as he is far more comfortable against the quicker bowlers and doesn’t seem keen on attacking the spinners when he first comes to the crease. What shouldn’t have happened was Prior’s elevation.
Then there is England’s bowling which has simply been very poor as well as very naive throughout this tournament to date. Jimmy Anderson should have been dropped by now, as soon as it became obvious that the ball would not be swinging for him in sub-continental conditions, and at no stage have England seemed to appreciate that in 50-over cricket it is also necessary to have bowlers who are good enough and smart enough to keep it tight in the middle of an innings and build pressure by doing that.
England’s attack is full of bowlers who want to take wickets, and bowl with lots of variations, but you just can’t do that all the way through a 50-over match. You need to know when to attack and when to defend.
In England’s defeat against Ireland, which illustrated the height of their naivety with the ball, I watched in disbelief when Tim Bresnan – having bowled a very tidy over in which he had rigorously bowled straight and just short of a length – then let go a bouncer with his last ball, which the Irish batsman thick-edged away for four. What on earth was he doing bowling a short one in that instance?
Then, when England lost to Bangladesh, the home side’s heroic ninth wicket pair were given a significant boost when Graeme Swann’s last two balls were hit for four and six by their number ten, Shafiul Islam. No offence to Shafiul, who batted superbly in company with Mahmudullah to win a game that looked as if it had slipped away, but why did Swann give him two length balls at that stage?
In that situation, with Bangladesh still with some way to go to clinch victory, I would have been looking to bowl the ball right up into the blockhole and into his feet so that he did not have a chance of a big hit.
Once again, it seemed as if England were trying too hard to take a wicket when all they had to do was realise that all they had to do was make it as difficult as possible for the batsmen to get over the line. On Indian and Bangladeshi pitches, if you bowl straight and back-of-a-length, it is far more difficult for batsmen to get the ball away. The ball often stays low, too, which makes cross-batted shots difficult and dangerous to play.
My own feeling is that James Tredwell, as England’s out-and-out second spinner, should have played by now – he is a good one-day bowler, as he has proved over many years at Kent, and bowls the consistent lines and lengths that are just what is required in the middle overs.
Michael Yardy and Luke Wright – who like Tredwell has not even featured in one game despite being in the original 15, unlike Ravi Bopara who has come in as a replacement and shown he should have been selected all along – are two players who should not even be in the squad. Neither of them are good enough bowlers or good enough batsmen to warrant a place ahead of other candidates. Chris Tremlett, too, probably deserved to be in the original 15.
I do have a bit of sympathy for the selectors in that their World Cup decisions had to be made far too early – witness the farce of them leaving out Morgan even though it was soon apparent that he was fit enough to have played in virtually the whole tournament – but overall their thinking has been extremely poor.
Indeed, I think there may have to be some harsh words said when England’s latest World Cup campaign is over. There have been four years to prepare for this tournament, but England seem to have got carried away by their Twenty20 World Cup success and been far too gung-ho with both selection and tactics. In short, so far it hasn’t been very good at all.