England cricketers. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

England have been a poor one-day side in cricket for years – now they're abject

If this kind of performance is what you get after six months of dedicated planning, then less planning sounds good to me.

This was a salutary defeat. This, surely, is the end for psychobabble and over-professionalism, a full stop to mark the end of overcoaching and joylessly prescriptive planning. It is time for England’s cricketers to put bat to ball, to react to the situation and not genuflect to the tactics manual. It is time to play once again. If this is what you get after six months of dedicated planning, then less planning sounds good to me.

Here is one possible summary of this disastrous World Cup: “They found ever more stones to upturn, each less relevant than the last. Lauded for their professionalism, they snuffed out the last glimpses of play (from a game, let’s remember) . . . The resulting atmosphere: anxious, dutiful, earnest, fearful and highly professional. Too little in evidence: fun, naturalness, mischief, adventure, lightness, wit and maverick independence.”

Only it was written in prospect, not retrospect – by me, in this very space, 13 months ago. Since then, the same script has played out in full. Now, please, for the change.

New errors have been added, it is true. When England sacked Alastair Cook as one-day captain at the eleventh hour, it was almost universally praised as the right decision. I disagreed. There is a time when you’ve thrown your lot in with someone, and for this World Cup England had done that with Cook.

In seeking to avoid one problem – Cook’s batting form – they ended up creating two problems. The discarded Cook, back at home, is deeply hurt. Eoin Morgan, adrift in totally uncharted waters as captain, may end up feeling he has been used. The adjectives “streetwise” and “positive” were hopeful to the point of neglectful naivety. If opting for Morgan was a sop to media pressure, it was disgraceful.

Selection was a shambles. On the eve of the opening game, they abandoned one of the few things that was working – the form of James Taylor at number three. Instead, Gary Ballance was plucked from the subs’ bench. He is now needlessly scarred by having played in an ill-fated World Cup for which he had little preparation.

It is impossible not to feel sorry for Morgan, especially as his native Ireland have played much better than England at the World Cup. Morgan, like Ed Joyce before him, pursued a career as an England player because Ireland are held back by a lack of fixtures and opportunities. Watching a revitalised Joyce – now back in Irish green – chalk up elegant runs for his home team, it’s obvious how deeply he cares about the cricketing culture that produced him. You now wonder how Morgan, who may be tempted by the life of a roving Twenty20 specialist, will react to this bruising World Cup experience.

Having invented T20, England have engineered a situation where they squandered the advantages of being the pioneer. The best T20 leagues are the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League. It is simply impossible to produce cricket at that level in a league of 18 counties – the talent is diluted too weakly. Everyone knows this is a fact. When we shared a dressing room at Middlesex in 2008, I saw Morgan shake his head in disbelief at the ECB’s refusal to set a franchise-based T20 league. He was right.

There is a brain drain in English cricket. The better thinkers rarely return to the game, whether as coaches or as administrators. After the defeat, viewers watched Andrew Strauss, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain, three thoughtful former England captains, dissect the performance. Forgive my hypocrisy, but it seems a shame that the media are almost universally considered far more attractive than the coalface.

The pull of television is compounded by the push of the county grind. Top Australian ex-players such as Justin Langer, Stuart Law and Darren Lehmann have all recently coached at state level in Australia. It is much rarer for people of such distinction to enter coaching in county cricket. The prospect of a never-ending road trip around 18 counties works against recruiting top talent. When Peter Moores was reappointed as England coach a year ago, the striking feature was the unspectacular quality of the shortlist. Moores is a decent, hard-working enthusiast, probably the best of his type. It remains very unclear that his type is good enough.

There is a saying in the military that generals are helplessly conditioned to fight the previous war. In the same way, English cricket is dangerously obsessed with the Ashes. That is because between 1986 and 2005 we never won an Ashes series. Disappointment produced myopia. The Ashes remains a money-spinner and a crowd-pleaser, but it cannot prop up our whole game for ever. One-day cricket is treated like an inferior side issue. The Ashes, like all great brands, will mask the underlying cultural decline for a long time but it can’t bail out the whole English game indefinitely.

To some extent, coaches and captains, tactics and selection, are all beside the point. England have been a poor one-day team for years. They have remained poor. All that has happened is, the rest of the cricketing world has evolved, becoming more creative, expressive, exuberant and attacking. Plodding England used to be able to hang around, never leading at one-day cricket but just about within reach. No longer. The question is not how we can compete with Australia and New Zealand (out of sight) but how we might learn from Bangladesh. It is a galling fact that the fastest and most exciting bowler on Monday was Bangladeshi.

Cricket’s place in the wider sporting culture is under grave threat. There is no cricket on free-to-air television; there is a leadership deficit, too many tracksuited clichés, a lack of critical thinking and independent thought. England are still, thanks to satellite television, cash-rich. By every other measure, they are looking bankrupt. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.