Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Why Are England Losing?

The series has been lost. The inquest starts here.

The performances from England throughout this series haven’t been good. For a side obviously on a high following such an exceptional Ashes performance, and are looking to win the World Cup, the way England have played during these first five games just haven’t been up to scratch. There are a number of reasons why. Motivation. Concentration. Injuries. And just general poor play. But why have England, after being so good in the first few months of this Australian tour, looking so poor now?

To start, motivation to play in a seven match ODI series after the epic high of winning the Ashes can’t be great. While the Andy’s will have drummed into the players the importance of keeping their performance levels up, and there being clear motivation as a sportsman to win every game you play, the timing and nature of this series will always mean that England will struggle. The Ashes in Australia is the be all and end all for English cricketers, and so much planning, preparation, and energy was put into winning that series that anything that immediately follows will feel like an anti-climax. The fact that it’s a fairly meaningless seven match series means that while England would have wanted to win, they’re not too bothered that they haven’t. It obviously wasn’t a do-or-die series for England – why else would they have allowed their best bowler to miss the first few games? We saw a similar situation back in 2009 in England – after a hard-fought Ashes win, England relaxed and allowed Australia to dominate an equally as uninteresting seven match series, losing 6-1. Conversely, where England have lacked motivation, Australia have had it in bundles. They’ve just been humiliated on home soil by the Poms, and they want payback. While trouncing them in an ODI series isn’t equivalent to winning the Ashes, it’s a start.

So Australia are up for it, England aren’t. A massive generalisation, but it isn’t a total lie, and it goes some way to explain why England are losing.

While motivation does play a part, England’s performances have been deeper than who wants it more. England’s batting has been shaky to say the least, with only a couple of players being in any real credit. Collingwood aside, it shouldn’t be a question of form, as most of England’s batting line up were plundering runs aplenty in the test series. While the motivation argument could be played to explain why there have been so many occurrences of low scores, poor ODI play has been the reason. England have consistently thrown their wickets away – holing out in the deep of the quicks, and offering dollies to close infielders off spinners. They haven’t played with the patience needed – with the rate more than manageable they’ve squandered wickets when trying to needlessly accelerate, which has put England under the cosh and lost them games. It’s difficult to put a finger on why – all of the top seven are very good international batsmen (as demonstrated many times in England shirts over the past 12 months in all formats of the game) but they just haven’t done it this series. Strauss and Morgan haven’t made starts, Prior doesn’t look comfortable when facing the raw pace of Brett Lee, Bell and Pietersen haven’t converted their starts into big scores, and Jonathan Trott has preferred to bump up his own average rather than play a match winning innings for the team (other than Adelaide, obviously). And Collingwood looks all over the pace. Don’t forget that this is a very potent Australian attack, but at least a couple of English batsmen should be scoring enough runs to make it competitive. We shouldn’t be relying on Steve Finn to make a score look respectable. England’s tail when Yardy bats at 7 was too long, but it’s been rearranged to put Collingwood there, which gives much better balance to the side. Selection hasn’t been the issue; poor performances have been the reason why England have been losing games.

In terms of the bowling, the main four bowlers of Broad, Anderson, Bresnan and Swann have all missed major parts of this series for one reason or another, but their replacements have performed admirably. Tremlett bowled tightly, Shahzad bowled dangerously, and Woakes took wickets. Not much was expected of a bowling attack lacking so much experience, but they haven’t let Australia bat them out of the game. While having the established foursome in would help, there are no complaints about the performances of England’s bowlers.

When a team are losing games, it’s easy to forget that there is also a side playing against them who are winning games. And Australia have performed well. Watson’s 161 at the MCG was one of One Day International Cricket’s great innings, and Marsh’s 100 at Hobart was equally as important for his side winning it. Brett Lee has looked back to his fearsome best, and there have been good contributions throughout from Haddin, Clarke, Bollinger, Hastings and Hussey. Australia have been good, but not brilliant. But the reason they haven’t been brilliant is because they haven’t needed to be. Other than Watson’s great knock to chase down 300, England haven’t posed enough of a problem for Australia to need consistently superb displays. Australia’s wins have all been deserved, but they were only deserved because England played so poorly in those games.

So why have England been losing? And what impact will this have for their performances in the World Cup? Well, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. A new environment in a new country, as well as the obvious challenge of playing in a World Cup should mean that England are up for it. But the main legacy of this series will be both the injuries (which hopefully clear up) and the lack of confidence caused by really poor batting performances. England have two ODIs here to get into a semblance of form (as well as finalising the preferred first XI) before a World Cup. England have been losing. Let’s just hope they can start winning, just in time for a World Cup which will be England’s best chance of winning in years.

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