Less than a year ago, in a rare interview with Duncan Fletcher for The Guardian and with the Indian Premier League in full swing, I asked whether he thought twenty20 cricket was proper cricket. “All cricket is proper cricket,” he replied. “At the end of the day, cricket is such a complicated game. You’ve still got to do certain basics: you just can’t go in there and play across the line. You might have a couple of innings where it looks good, but for a consistent performer you need the basic requirements.”
It’s not a sexy message, but it’s one England need to bear in mind if they are going to get anywhere on the slow, low pitches of the Caribbean in the five-match one-day series that starts in Guyana on Friday. And it’s all the more urgent after their performance in another twenty20 debacle in Trinidad at the weekend, when both Ravi Bopara and the debutant opener Steve Davies got carried away with moving around the crease and, predictably perhaps, were bowled.
The not-very-funny thing is, England did exactly the same thing during the Stanford money game in November, before Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher stood tall and uncomplicatedly biffed the Superstars to a 10-wicket win. The message, maybe because it’s not very sexy, is not sinking in.
Then again, why should it? English batsmen have always been uncomfortable with improvisation. Andrew Strauss is on record as suggesting that youngsters in this country are over-coached: get them to cock their left elbow and they’re world-beaters; ask them to undo years of well-meant conditioning and, as the saying goes, think on their feet, and they get confused. It’s no coincidence that the bloke who plays the switch-hits learned his cricket abroad.
The upshot, as we saw in Antigua last year and Trinidad on Sunday, is that England over-compensate. The effect is akin to an uncle at a disco, desperate to fit in but doomed in advance by the cardigan. Nasser Hussain made the point well a few days ago: if you’re going to move around the crease, don’t expose all three stumps – one will do.
That, and remember Fletcher’s basics. England’s most tedious failing in one-day cricket since their most recent heyday in 1992 has been to get bogged down on lifeless pitches against mediocre spinners and medium-pacers. The scenario has exposed their rigidity time and again. Now is the time for some kind of acceptable medium. Yes, the cardigan has to go. But, please, no strip-tease.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for The Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey