Scintillating cricket

The brand of cricket played in the semi-finals of the 2015 Cricket World Cup has been scintillating.

What a finish in the New Zealand, South Africa semi. Well played Grant Elliott and how fitting it was that he sent the co-hosts through after sending the penultimate ball sailing into the crowd.

And again more top-class cricket was on display from Australia in the second semi against India, with Steve Smith’s mighty 100 and high-class bowling from Mitchell Starc.

These four nations have taken cricket as a sport to a new level, pushing the boundaries further and further. It’s a faster and more dynamic brand of cricket.

With flexibility, cunning guile and world-class ability, both the hosts have not just peaked at the right time but peaked throughout.

What is sad though, is how far England are behind the pack – light years. It’s evident that they have been left behind. We acted like a test team and played like a test team. That’s fine if you’re paying test match cricket.

It feels like we’ve missed the bus or not even been invited to the party! And what a party, a festival of cricket, where innovation and ingenuity have been showcased at the one day game’s highest level.

Cricket has changed for the better, but England have been left playing catch up.

May the best team win in the final. Whoever wins, cricket has been a winner.

It’s time to ditch the system

It’s time to rip up the coaching manuals. I watched England’s defeat to Bangladesh with anguish. As a former England player and now a passionate fan, I take a lot of pride in our national cricket team. This World Cup though I was upset and disheartened watching how England played and what happened, it hurt.

The Tigers should be congratulated, they rose to the occasion by playing positive cricket and fully deserve both the victory and their place in the quarter finals.

But let’s get back to England. For me it’s about the coaching, it has a lot to answer for. Modern coaching is killing the game. There is such an emphasis on level 3 or level 4 coaches, on stats, percentages and computers.

Whereas it should be about the game, the situation, conditions and the ball you’re delivering or facing. When it comes to the coaches themselves, why place such an emphasis on qualifications instead of relevant experience or individual expertise.

These days kids are told how to hold a bat, how to stand, how to play a shot. This is all fair enough if it makes an improvement but more often than not you are removing natural instincts and ability as well as individual thought processes. I have seen it first hand through my coaching at schools.

Instead, for me coaching should be about enhancing individual ability and skills not interfering with a player’s mind, filling it with stats and textbook techniques. Kids learn from playing the game. I see a lot of youngsters especially during my time coaching at CCA who play free-flowing cricket and that’s how it should be.

The 2015 England World Cup team didn’t add up to the sum of its parts. We should have done much better rather than crashing out of the tournament in such embarrassing circumstances. For me, the modern day coaching culture and those who practice and preach it, have got to take responsibility.

Another frustration I have over this World Cup campaign is our inability to pick horses for courses. This is where the selectors have got to take a share of the blame. Yes, we should have done better with the players we picked, but our selection was also wrong, it was like we were picking a Test match side.

In limited overs you need innovators, players who have the ability to be explosive but we picked a side better suited to the longer form of the game. Where was Micheal Lumb or Ben Stokes? Why didn’t we give a chance to those who excel in the one day arena like Peter Trego, Micheal Carberry, Varun Chopra or James Vince. Or former Leicestershire man Harry Gurney, he’s a left arm bowler which would add a bit of variety. New players can’t gain experience without opportunities.

But no, instead we pick a Test match side. We gave Alastair Cook the elbow in favour of explosion at the top of the order yet, but where were the sparks? Jos Butler could have delivered them but he wasn’t given the opportunity. He could be our AB de Villiers, who bats at 4, but he will never have a chance to excel if he’s batting with the tail where he has to take too many risks.

I am going to be controversial here, but where was KP? He’s our best batsman, surely we should be using the best players at our disposal. But no, what would be the point of that? We may as well just play with numbers and computers.

Having played in three Cricket World Cups for England, the former Leicestershire all-rounder is now an expert cricket consultant based in the county and an Associate of the City Cricket Academy.

It’s time to believe in ourselves

We lost against a strong Australian side brimming with confidence, let’s not get too disheartened.

Facing the co-hosts in their opening game was always going to be a tall order, with an expectant home crowd, a pumped-up Mitchell Johnson and a batting line-up packed with power providing the stiffest possible examination for an England side travelling more in hope than expectation.

Chasing 342 was a great opportunity to be flexible with our batting order, to give somebody like Jos Buttler the chance to express himself and get us off to a flyer. Instead, we just reverted to standard practice.

A defeat was arguably always the most likely outcome and although there were some real highlights (most notably James Taylor’s superb innings), it’s impossible to see beyond the fact England were outplayed in pretty much every aspect of the contest.

But one defeat does not necessarily mean the end of the road for this England side. Sure, it makes the size of the task facing them even bigger, but it can also provide clarity to what is needed if they are to progress.

If it wasn’t already apparent, it’s become perfectly clear that the best sides in world cricket right now play without fear. Batsmen are encouraged to express themselves, to play their shots and to think on their feet. Bowlers are urged to take wickets, not contain. This is the World Cup where attack really is the best form of defence.

We’ve seen some extraordinary strokeplay already from the likes of Aaron Finch, Darren Sammy and David Miller. Wouldn’t it be great to add the names of Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan to that list? They all have the ability to do similar, they just need to free themselves of the shackles, get out there and put bat to ball. Give it a right good go.

I mentioned in my first instalment of this World Cup diary that I was concerned whether or not England would be flexible with our batting and bowling and whether we would adapt to the situation. Those concerns remain.

Flexibility is vital for success – you need to be able to assess the situation, think and adapt to what’s happening in the middle.

It’s easy to get caught up in statistics, performance analysis and all the data you have at your disposal in the modern game, and England have a lot, but the fact remains cricket is a game played on grass, not on a computer.

The winner will be determined by who performs best ‘in the moment’ with either bat or ball. Split-second decisions can win or lose games and we need to be brave enough to go for it when it comes to the crunch.

Next up for England is New Zealand in the early hours of Friday morning. It’ll be another tough one but if we can learn from the mistakes we made against Australia and commit to playing a brand of entertaining, aggressive cricket, we can do it. It’s time to believe in ourselves and take Ireland’s lead – they achieved an excellent result against the West Indies. It’s now our time.

Having played in three Cricket World Cups for England, the former Leicestershire all-rounder is now an expert cricket consultant based in the county and an Associate of the City Cricket Academy.

Best chance since 1992 – but will we be bold enough?

This year has the potential to be big for English cricket. I think we’ve got the best opportunity of lifting the sport’s greatest one-day prize for 23 years. And then there’s the Ashes.

Despite my optimism, however, I do have a few slight reservations. I have been wrestling with a few questions. Will we be brave enough to go out with aggression? What style of cricket are we going to play, are we going to express ourselves?

Will we be bold enough to change gears with the batting order when required? I know that’s one way England can definitely improve.

[pullquote]This year’s crop has a chance because I see similarities with 92. We have a perfect blend of youth and experience, we have all-rounders, we have flair.[/pullquote]Are we going to be flexible with our batting and bowling if the situation dictates? Flexibility is vital for success – you need to be able to adapt to the game.

Are we going to be versatile with the death bowlers? Will Morgan have the gumption to deliver a surprise package, the ability to lead with gut instinct, go against conventions, go against any coaching direction?

I have played in three Cricket World Cups. In the 92 Cricket World final where I was part of a perfectly-balanced team packed with all-rounders, including myself, Botham, Lewis, Pringle and Illingworth, Hicky, Stewart alongside Gooch and Lamby and Neil Fairbrother.

We just fell short of glory that year against a strong Pakistani team – including names such as Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq – and we haven’t been able to fulfil our promise in international, 50-over cricket ever since.

Maybe that’s because we’ve focused too much on Test cricket especially on the back of the 2005 Ashes triumph, or maybe because we just haven’t had the right collection of players.

One factor behind the team I had privilege to play in is that we were settled, the majority of us had played together for years. We had played a lot of one-day cricket together.

What does worry me is the fact that up until month ago on the Sri Lanka tour, we were still tinkering with the starting line up.

But despite this and the reservations I have already mentioned, this year’s crop has a chance because I see similarities with 92. We have a perfect blend of youth and experience, we have all-rounders, we have flair.

I’m excited by Jos Butler, I think this is his time, while rookies like Woakes, Finn and Taylor all have the talent to excel.

Add to this the experience of Ian Bell, who should, and can, bat for 50 overs, and that of Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara, and I believe we have a team with the opportunity to go one better than we did in 1992.