No matter how much Cook and his boys said in each press conference that they were going to bounce back, fans and media were certain of the white wash. That four of the five games were decided by whopping margins, it only deepens the scars of English cricketers who have won only one game of sixteen in their last three bilateral series in India.
England is known to prepare better than most for any series and it was no different when they arrived in Hyderabad ten days before the first game. Unfortunately, their planning and strategy leaves a lot to be desired.
It is quite apparent that they have theories in place and try to pick players to fit them into those theories. The problem is, it doesn’t always work unless the player is brilliant enough fit himself to any theory. And in England’s case, there are very few of them who are that versatile.
It is silly that they had to choose between Pietersen and Bell for one batting slot. In an ideal world, you pick the best team you have – both Pietersen and Bell would be the first two to be penciled in in that case. And once the best batting team is picked, based on the strengths, the strategy is to be formed.
India showed them how it is done even when they were in England irrespective of the one-day results. With all their power players out injured – Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj – they played to the limitations of their side and planned to not lose wickets up front and let Dhoni and Raina take to the bowling at the end. That was their best chance with the team they had and they took the common sense approach.
One look at this England team and you know for certain that they have no such concrete plan. Expecting Kieswetter to do a Jayasuriya just because the pitches allow free stroke making against the new ball is silly. Kieswetter’s limitations have exposed the flawed roleplay identified for the players. You cannot score 80 runs in the first 10 overs just because that is how it is done in the sub-continent. You need to have the players to do it.
More importantly, the match winners in the team have to be looked after. And in this team, that match winner had to be Kevin Pietersen. The only time England won anything of substance in the limited overs format – T20 world cup in the Caribbean– Pietersen was the Man of the Tournament. That he was made to think his place in team was under threat to the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler wouldn’t have sat comfortably on him.
Not that Graeme Swann chose to release his autobiography just before the start of the series help. There was nothing sinister in his revelation that he didn’t think Pietersen was captaincy material. The timing would have hurt. Also Swann’s revelation that the four day boot camp in Germany prior to the Ashes were among the worst of his life didn’t go too well with Flower. Swann dropped catches and looked very innocuous with his off-spin throughout. It didn’t help at all in their team bonding.
On the other hand, M.S. Dhoni ensures that he gives Yuvraj Singh all the confidence in the world when he is playing. He constantly tells the press that Yuvraj is India’s key to success in limited overs cricket and he has reaped the rewards as the temperamental southpaw was instrumental in India winning the T20 world cup in 2007 and the 50 overs world cup early this year. Both Yuvraj and Pietersen have massive egos and the trick to ensure that they have the full confidence of the captain and the management. They need to be told that they are critical for their team’s success.
Also the fascination towards these power hitters in Alex Hales, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow is worrying. That they are picked and placed to take advantage of the powerplays is a noble thought provided they are good enough to do it. Kieswetter has shown that be can perhaps bat in top gear or get stuck with nothing in between, while Bairstow seems to have not much idea playing spin.
It would be common sense that an ideal XI will comprise of their three best players –Bell, Pietersen and Morgan. Also, their batting positions should ensure that they get maximum opportunities to play 50 overs. How they fit the others around these three will be a good starting point, and worthy of a good planning exercise.
Also, Cook’s captaincy has been far from impressive. Pietersen looked clueless when England were thrashed 5-0 in India last time, and Cook looked not far from it. The only time India struggled against this England attack was when they got the ball to reverse. It meant they should have looked to bowl during the day and not worry about the heat. Only in Hyderabad and Kolkata did they bowl first and the heat seemed to get to them.
Mental toughness of a team is also in taking these factors into consideration, and England would have done well to let go of playing under cooler night conditions. The night dew also ensured that India chased down England’s targets with great ease as there was no reverse either. Only Finn came through with a remarkable show of strength and endurance.
It’s all right when the media points to the fact that the next world cup in 2015 will be played in Australia and New Zealand, but not to forget is the fact the T20 world cup is in Sri Lanka next year. On current evidence, it is difficult to imagine England starting favourites to defend their crown.