Bimble along to a one-day international featuring England and you are more than likely to witness a brilliant performance from a member of the team. Whether it is a well-paced century from Jonny Bairstow or Joe Root, a rapid fire innings from Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali or Jos Buttler or a brilliant bowling performance from the aforementioned Worcestershire all-rounder, Liam Plunkett or Chris Woakes there are not many internationals that pass without a contribution of great note. England have become one of the game’s premier limited overs exponents, particularly in home conditions, able to record totals in excess of 350 or skittle sides out for modest scores.
Such success is very much a recent phenomenon though. Barely two years has passed since England ignominiously bowed out of the 2015 World Cup as a result of naïve, outdated tactics and a general lack of innovation. Sadly, the failure to perform was not a one-off occurrence but, rather, the continuation of a trend that stretches back almost a quarter of a century. England’s failure to move with the ODI times has arguably made them the laughing stock of the format and led to the penning of the tome 28 Days Data by Peter Miller and Dave Tickner, an interesting insight into the repeated failures and the reasons behind England’s inability to keep up with the format. In an age when the penny finally seems to have dropped the book provides a useful touchstone and reminder to disastrous times from the recent past. Focusing on the half a dozen World Cups since England were a force in the limited overs game and highlights common themes that seemed to plague England akin to a cricketing Groundhog Day. Nevertheless, there is a chapter dedicated to the 1992 World Cup when England were front runners in the format with innovations such as opening the batting with Ian Botham. There are also regular amusing references to THOSE kits, a pleasing development for somebody who remembers the competition well:
The book is at its best when highlighting the subtle symptoms behind England’s continued failures rather than simply underlining that the batsmen didn’t score quickly enough. Thus, the revelation that England were playing limited overs cricket in whites, with a red ball and different fielding restrictions to the rest of the world proves difficult to believe in the modern cricket world.
Of a similar nature is England’s failure to appreciate the importance of run rate during the 1999 World Cup on home soil and how the lower order were rusty when required to score runs in the final match versus India due to the top order scoring slowly and occupying the crease, the seemingly quadrennial occurrence of the team’s management making major changes to the team or the batting order on the eve of a major competition and the short-sighted policy of picking players for the fifty over squad according to test form.
Stretching to 352 pages, one could easily believe that there is too much filler surrounding the limited detail of England’s poor performances at the last half a dozen World Cups but, rather, each chapter includes a well thought out amount of information that provides context and meaning to each tournament. For example, the insights regarding England’s players being weary and battle-worn, particularly in 2003 and 2007, after heavy defeats in Ashes series prior to the event proves particularly insightful. Conversely, the book also highlights that the Ashes success of 2010/11 also proved detrimental to World Cup preparations as the squad cruised through the ODI series but heavy nature of the defeat to Australia sowed seeds of doubt leading to the recurring problem of last minute changes.
Planning certainly seemed to be a major Achilles Heel for England’s pursuit of World Cup glory with the lead-up to the 1996 World Cup proving embarrassingly shambolic whilst Andrew Strauss revealed that the team had no real game plan leading into the disastrous 2007 edition. Ultimately, England’s tactical naivety scuppered their chances and there is much for the reader to chew over and ponder on such matters. Such as the policy of building a solid base during the powerplays at the 2007 World Cup when other teams were attacking with gusto, the changing of personnel but selection of the same style of player, the failure to appreciate the influence of T20 cricket when preparing for the 2015 competition and the infamous quarter-final against Sri Lanka in 2011 when England’s data driven par score, which would supposedly win 72% of games, was blown away by the former champions.
England’s woes, and their continued inability to grasp the fundamentals of the limited overs game, are not the only intriguing moments in a book that offers plenty of vignettes to enjoy, starting off in the foreword where George Dobell succinctly comments that Australia have never won the World T20 and India haven’t won it since the formation of the IPL, highlighting that it is the marketing that is so admired with their respective franchise tournaments not the actual cricket whilst concluding the thought that English domestic cricket needs better marketing.
Throw in the amusing, zealous description of the ‘low scoring thriller’ and the interesting disagreement about Matthew Engel’s comments in 2007 edition of Wisden regarding cricket and global expansion, hardly surprising bearing in mind Miller’s involvement with the book Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts regarding the sport in non-test playing nations. Perhaps the most insightful chapter though was that covering the years of Adam Hollioake’s captaincy and the disjointed thinking despite possessing an ideal performer, particularly abroad where matches were almost treated as an inconvenience. Curiously, despite the dramatic progress under Hollioake’s captaincy in terms of style (brought a sense of fun to the squad) tactics and player selection (using one-day specialists) those in charge soon regressed to the status quo ante post a disappointing series in the Caribbean. For nearly a quarter of a century this was the bleak outlook for England’s one day team but the times they are a-changing.