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Sam Collins: Will the real England please stand up

November 21st, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, One-day cricket and tagged , , , ,

So just what is wrong with England? Three games, three defeats and Yuvraj Singh and those old grumps Duckworth and Lewis have firmly squashed the optimism of the summer’s 4-0 ODI victory over South Africa. But does Kevin Pietersen warrant a dissection similar to that afforded Ricky Ponting, or have England merely been outplayed in foreign conditions by the world’s form side?

Pietersen has helped the media by writing his own headlines throughout his career, yet his tendency to be a man of extremes looks like it has rubbed off on his team. Just as Test and one-day success over the country of his birth made for an extraordinary start to captaincy, so the Stanford debacle and the chaotic beginning to the Indian tour have appeared catastrophic.

Without doubt, England were overly feted for routing a drained South African side that had already won the Test series. The return of Steve Harmison, the rebirth of Andrew Flintoff the batsman and the emergence of Samit Patel did provide genuine plus points amid the hysteria. That all three have to date (Flintoff’s warm-up hundred excepted) provided little evidence of being match-winners in India has not helped Pietersen or England.

But, despite the emphatic nature of the defeats in India, England appear closer to having the nucleus of a successful one-day side than they have for some time. Of those who have played ODIs for England this year, only Dimitri Mascarenhas, Phil Mustard and Tim Bresnan are not in India. England have clearly picked the best men for the job, and if results have not reflected this, then Patel, Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad have provided glimpses of an exciting future.

Perhaps Pietersen’s England should be afforded some slack, after all, the previous England team to visit these shores lost a similar series 5-1 in 2005-06. And there are questions. What is the best opening pair? What has happened to James Anderson as a one-day bowler? Can England expect to beat the best teams consistently without a frontline spinner? Pietersen must answer them quickly before the real audit begins.

The apparent success of the Matt Prior-Ian Bell opening partnership (stands of 101, 85 and 77) was the misleading headline of the South Africa series. For a decisive man, Pietersen was slow to respond to Prior’s limitations as a one-day opener – an average of 22.75 from 31 games (with a solitary half-century), at a strike rate of 73.89 are not figures to give opening bowlers sleepless nights. While Sehwag bristles with intent at the start of the Indian innings, Prior merely bristles. The promotion of Ravi Bopara worked in Kanpur and has diverted attention to England’s big-name yet misfiring middle-order, conspicuously short of substantial innings on the subcontinent.

At the other end, James Anderson’s struggles in the short-form, as he establishes himself in the Test team, have become a concern. His failure to take a wicket so far in India leaves him with just one wicket in his last nine ODIs and a record of 10 wickets at 71 in the 19 ODIs since he returned to the Test side in New Zealand in February. He’s bowled that shorter length that is more reliable at Test level and this could have blunted his knack of taking ODI wickets. In the enforced absence of Ryan Sidebottom and with Steve Harmison refusing to take the new ball, it is a problem that Pietersen and Moores cannot ignore for much longer.

It’s not all doom for England. They are a decent side (certainly better than they were a year ago) but India are on a high, with a full cupboard of relentless quicks and a slighted genius in Yuvraj finally producing the goods. How England respond in the remainder of a long one-day series will provide the insight into Pietersen’s capacity to inspire.

Sam Collins is website editor of

Posted in England, One-day cricket | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Sam Collins: Will the real England please stand up”

  1.   Som says:

    I think the rot starts at the start and teams which fail to realise the importance of having regular openers have paid the price for their folly. Certainly, England can’t claim to be an exception.

    Get it clear, makeshift openers won’t stand you in good stead in the long run. You have to have specialist, devoted openers who should be persisted with and with a little bit of patience as well. There simply can’t be any short-cut. No quick-fix arrangement, please. Too much tinkering with the order only spawns panic and insecurity down the ranks and it never really helped any side. If India has been a success in all three forms of the game in recent past, it has largely been due to the fact that invariably Gautam Gambhir — that is when not serving ban — and Virender Sewhag have walked out to open the innings.

    I don’t care whether it’s Bopara, Prior or Bell. Identify potential openers, stick to them for a while, assure them a couple of flop shows won’t put their heads on the chopping block and help them understand what is expected of them.

    In extraordinary circumstances, you do need to rejig the order a bit but fix the opening problem first and things would be smooth afterwards.

  2.   Peter Redding says:

    I think Robert Key and Joe Denly should open, (Trescothick aside) they are the two best One Day openers in England. They are also used to opening together for Kent and understand each other’s game inside out.

    In addition to big hitting at the top of the order Gambhir and Sehwag have also shown the importance of running between the wickets and this understanding has been built up through years of opening together for Delhi. Key and Denly have the same kind of experience of opening together.

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