England long on questions, short on passion for Cricket World Cup

As England continue falling to Sri Lanka, it's obvious they're not too invested in the 50-over format, writes Osman Samiuddin.
England bowler Chris Woakes reacts after a boundary during his side's ODI loss to Sri Lanka on Sunday in Colombo. Ishara S Kodikara / AFP / December 7, 2014
England bowler Chris Woakes reacts after a boundary during his side's ODI loss to Sri Lanka on Sunday in Colombo. Ishara S Kodikara / AFP / December 7, 2014

A surefire way of overworking Google is to type in “Why England will not win the World Cup”.

In less than half a second, it throws up 146 million results. It turns out the vast majority of results are about England not winning the football World Cup.

If you add “cricket” to the phrase, it generates 16.5 million results, although, hearteningly, the very first link is a column of 10 reasons why England will win the 2015 World Cup.

It is a quasi-spoof piece, though. A lot of the other search results are, bizarrely, about whether India can win the World Cup, though that is revealing of India’s omnipresence in the sport.

The point of the exercise? It says more about the search than the results: discussion of England not winning a World Cup, or even being in a position to do so, is like a quadrennial ritual.

To be more accurate, over the years, England’s adventures in the ODI format have become cricket’s great blind spot.

England’s cricket heads do not seem to care much for it, matched by a kind of indifference from the rest of the world to that nation’s fortunes. I would venture, of the top eight sides expected to make the quarter-finals in Australia and New Zealand, the least excitement – and knowledge – among the average fan will be of England’s chances.

It is just so clear that England’s resources remain centred on Test cricket, and even within that, a couple of lucrative series – the Ashes and India. In all this, one-day cricket feels like the penance in their pursuit of Tests.

It has been a bad year in ODIs for them, among their worst in recent memory. After the fourth ODI against Sri Lanka on Sunday, they had won only eight of their 23 ODIs this year.

But there is a fact more striking than the run of results. The bowling pair that will be, arguably, central to England’s chances at the World Cup has barely played any 50-over cricket this year.

James Anderson has appeared in just 10 ODIs, and his partner Stuart Broad, six.

Startlingly, they have not played an ODI together since June 2013. Injuries have played a role in the absences, as is the case currently, but so too, at times, has England’s prioritising of Tests over ODIs.

It does not seem to worry anyone unduly that they are playing so little 50-over cricket.

Both are good enough to be good enough at the World Cup, and especially in non-subcontinent conditions. But even with a competitive-looking ODI tri-series in January thrown in, England might have preferred for them to be a little more cooked in the format come February 14.

That is the thing. England do not have bad one-day players.

They have enough that they surely stand some kind of chance, especially in a tournament structure in which, essentially, they have to put together three good games in a row, from the quarter-finals onward.

But there is no cohesion about the side. There is no one player around whom an identity and team can be forged, around whom a team can be galvanised.

What even is England’s best XI? Who backs up Anderson and Broad? What is their best batting order? Should Ian Bell really be opening, or should he even be in that best XI?

Hovering above all is the daddy of all debilitating debates, over Alastair Cook’s place in the side, let alone as leader of it. In many ways, Cook, though he is not his side’s only problem, epitomises their one-day woes.

On paper, he has built up honest, serviceable ODI numbers and even expanded his game. But he remains distinctly out of place in the format; he is primarily an excellent Test batsman who is merely competent in ODIs.

That is England, too.

Somehow, they do not feel right in coloured kit still, like a team of Vespa enthusiasts who have walked into a Hell’s Angels party.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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