England’s use of statistical analysis was a key component in their three Ashes victories under Andy Flower but there is a sense that it has weighed too heavily on their approach to batting in one-day cricket.
1 Timidity with the bat
Graeme Swann, who raised the issue last summer, claimed the team were too self-congratulatory when setting Sri Lanka 309 in Wellington, a score the captain Eoin Morgan later insisted was above par because “the stats back that up”. Only they know if a run rate of just under four an over between overs 10 and 35 was down to the computer’s printout or the struggle for form engulfing Gary Ballance and the captain himself. Either way, those sides who have regularly screamed past 300 have picked up at around two runs more an over during this period. Against Australia England buckled under the weight of a huge target – a theme in this World Cup – while New Zealand’s attack were simply too good in Wellington. As such, the totals against Scotland – 303 for eight – and Sri Lanka were greater disappointments when there were more runs in the pitch.
2 Lack of lateral movement
While the New Zealand duo Tim Southee and Trent Boult have shared 23 wickets in four matches by getting it to hoop around, England’s chief purveyors of the moving ball, James Anderson and Chris Woakes, have to date found the phenomenon elusive. Stuart Broad has looked short of form since September’s knee operation, while Steven Finn continues to confound. As a result, all four members of the seam attack have been eminently more hittable and have gone at more than six runs an over, removing that most valuable of weapons: pressure. Their one true test of nerve at the death came in the opening fixture against Australia, when a pre-planned barrage of short, slower balls was hit to all parts by Glenn Maxwell. Against Sri Lanka in Wellington, the lack of penetration defending 310, albeit in the face of some masterful batting from Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara, was deeply troublesome.
3 Absence of variety
England’s all-right-arm seam attack has, by virtue of the above, looked even more one-dimensional than was feared at the naming of the squad back in December. The hope that Nottinghamshire’s left-armer Harry Gurney could stake a claim proved in vain when he went around the park in three outings on the one-day tour of Sri Lanka. It left the selectors without the option for a contrast of angle. Their remaining seam option now is Chris Jordan, another right‑armer, albeit one who picks up wickets every 32 balls, the best rate of the group. Spin bowlers have not taken the clobbering on antipodean pitches that some expected either, with Daniel Vettori, Imran Tahir and Rangana Herath all keeping it tight and picking up key scalps. Meanwhile, England’s one true specialist, James Tredwell, who has the fourth-best strike rate of international spinners to have bowled more than 300 overs in one-day cricket, is yet to be picked.
4 Muddled thinking, then stubbornness
The primacy of Alastair Cook in the pre-Christmas tour to Sri Lanka was the catalyst for a top‑three merry-go-round in which Moeen Ali replaced Alex Hales as opener and Ian Bell moved to No3. He was then dropped before finally being restored to the top for the Tri‑Series after the captain had finally been hooked from the stage. James Taylor thought he had nailed down first-drop during that time, only for Gary Ballance, with only one innings in four and a half months, to get the nod on the eve of the tournament as Ravi Bopara, an almost ever-present up to that point, was axed. Since then England have stuck rigidly to the same side, despite the glaring issue of Ballance’s loss in form.
5 Trying to cram before the exam
Ashley Giles, since losing his job as limited overs coach in April 2014, has lamented a 16-month stint in which he was rarely granted his first choice squad as the one-day legs of tours were used as a chance to rest and rotate with back-to-back Ashes series on the horizon. By bringing the Test series in Australia forward by 12 months – the shockwaves from which are still being felt – England cleared the decks for a winter of white-ball cricket. But having given one-day cricket second tier status for so long – a runners-up spot in the 2013 Champions Trophy demonstrated what a full strength side could achieve – this 50-over-only diet was more akin to a last-minute cramming session than a period of fine‑tuning, throwing up more questions than answers and leading to the necessary but far‑from‑ideal change of captain just two months before the tournament.
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