Monday, 12 September 2011

Home or Away?

So England have won the ODI series against India. Given England's fairly abysmal start to 2011 in limited over cricket, two series victories over the two World Cup finalists is an obvious feather in the cap, especially given many assumed two heavy defeats would mark Alastair Cook's first two series in the job as captain.

However, England have had it mostly in their favour. Injuries to India, depleted after a long, gruelling and fruitless tour has meant that it has been far from the full strength side that saw India take the World Cup crown in April. Rain has come at opportune moments for England - first at Durham to save England as they wobbled, and then at Lord's, where Duckworth and Lewis' permutations could have seen the game go either way (and in the end, it went neither). However, the key asset to England thus far this series has been the choice of pitches that home advantage brings.

England's strength, as seen in the tests, is in their swing bowlers, who can move the ball both ways. Given Indian batsmen's historic aversion to being worked over by the moving ball, England have exploited that weakness effectively, seen most clearly at The Oval, where a combination of an emerald pitch and Jimmy Anderson reduced India to 58-5, and effectively out of the game.

So are England well within their rights as the home side to prepare pitches that favour their strengths? Well, yes. As has been pointed out, India are likely to prepare pitches that spin big for the away ODI series to follow - an area that England have historically struggled with as well. As Hampshire have shown in the T20 this season, it's well within a team's rights to take full advantage of home advantage by creating pitches that suit the side (and arguably to create a side that suits the pitch).

However, the question should really be whether England should actually take advantage of that home advantage, or whether they should be a little more thoughtful about things. It's becoming a running joke that England can do well at home before wilting in away series - especially in World Cups. The home successes mask clear problems in the side which are exploited when the conducive conditions aren't in play, leading to poor performances in 'alien' foreign climes. Surely if England are to progress in ODI cricket, they have to learn how to play, and to win on any pitch and in any given condition. Green-tops at The Oval are all well and good, but how will England grow as a limited over team when they are rolling teams over at home, before inevitably being rolled themselves on a raging turner in Chennai, Mumbai or Bangalore.

England have done well this summer in ODI cricket, but still have a long way to go before becoming genuine World Cup contenders. It's all well and good taking loads of wickets when the ball's hooping around corners, but England's real test will be when they travel to India in a few weeks for the return ODI series. Only once England learn to play well overseas can they be regarded as one of the best limited over teams around. Until then, as always, they'll just be seen as good in their own backyard.

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