England’s reign as dual white-ball World Champions is all but over after their latest heavy defeat at the Cricket World Cup saw Sri Lanka breeze past them by eight wickets, but where has it gone wrong for Jos Buttler’s side?
An era of swashbuckling, no holds barred, front foot attacking cricket under the original guidance of Eoin Morgan after 2015’s group-stage exit has been replaced by a muddled, confused and inconsistent approach over the past couple of years.
England have regressed in 50-over cricket since their 2019 World Cup win on home soil while the rest of the world has caught up and comfortably overtaken them.
But the drop-off has arguably been even more recent and sudden than that after Buttler led England to victory in the T20 World Cup just a year ago in Australia.
“With sporting teams, confidence is a bit like a person’s reputation in life. It takes an age to build, but can be shattered in an instance,” former England captain Michael Atherton said on Sky Sports.
“What we’ve seen in this tournament is that confidence wane away to a point where it’s not there anymore.
“You can’t even look at that England batting line-up and say anyone looks in good touch.”
Atherton’s observation can be backed up by England not only having been beaten four times out of five matches so far in India but being considerably second best in defeats by New Zealand, Afghanistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Inconsistent selection has also punctuated back-to-back defeats by South Africa and Sri Lanka and while one change was enforced through an unfortunate injury to Reece Topley, a player whose original omission from the squad caused such debate in Harry Brook, found himself cast aside just two matches after top-scoring.
“It’s destabilising,” Atherton added.
“It’s all very well saying before games what you want to do, but when you’re struggling and down on confidence, it’s not easy to put those words and aspirations into action.
“We’ve all been there in teams that are struggling for confidence and form. No team has a divine right to be at the top of its game all the time. It’s a whole range of factors.
“If you look a bit deeper, you could argue it’s a team at the end of its cycle, a team that’s been devoid of 50-over cricket for the past couple of years and the lack of England’s ability to be able to put what they consider to be their first-choice team in 50-over cricket out on the field, has camouflaged some of the weaknesses and decline we’ve seen.
“England have very much got to consider how they regenerate this team after the World Cup.”
A bridge too far for some players?
Atherton’s point about a lack of 50-over cricket is backed up by them having played just 42 ODIs between the end of the 2019 World Cup and the start of the ongoing tournament in India.
While some of those bilateral series schedules were impacted by events including the Coronavirus pandemic, teams globally have reduced their commitments to playing the longer form of white-ball cricket as domestic T20 franchise leagues have grown around the world.
In the same period, English cricket’s domestic 50-over competition has lost its first-class status, taking place at the same time as The Hundred leading some critics to ask where the next crop of international players can learn their skills.
But in addition, England are a much-changed side since that sun-kissed dramatic Super Over final against New Zealand in July 2019.
Morgan and Liam Plunkett have both retired from England international duty, Ben Stokes is an all-rounder unable to bowl, while both Jason Roy and Jofra Archer have been deemed not fit for selection.
In addition, players including Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow and Buttler have taken their indifferent form into the main event.
“It’s so easy to be wise after the event,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports. “But I would not swap one of Will Jacks, Phil Salt, Ben Duckett for any of the players in this World Cup squad.
“Some of the team who played against Sri Lanka would be in England’s best ever white-ball XI, it’s just been a bridge too far for some of them this tournament.”
So a much-changed side from 2019 is set to change even more as the average age pushes itself even further above 30. But where are the next generation coming from?
We might get some answers as soon as December when England head to the Caribbean to play West Indies in a ODI and T20 series. Some of the players who featured against Ireland in a rain-affected series last month may well get opportunities.
Zak Crawley captained that side which included fellow Test opener Ben Duckett and county prospects Will Jacks, Jamie Smith, Sam Hain and leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed who has already made headlines as England’s youngest Test match debutant.
One member of the current squad, Gus Atkinson, may well also get included despite being left out of the defeat by Sri Lanka.
“He was the glimmer of light in the defeat by South Africa, he executed his yorkers well and batted pretty well to and seemed to have a bit of freshness about him,” England seam bowler Kate Cross said on Sky Sports.
“To leave him out, a really young and exciting talent, whether it be for the balance of the side, again seems to reflect the lack of confidence this team have got.
“Names like him, Salt, Jacks might bring that energy back to this team and you might want to see involved a lot more.”
What have England’s ODI team gone wrong? What you had to say…
Skysports.com readers shared their views after England’s defeat by Sri Lanka in our live blog, here’s a selection of some of the comments…
David Banbury: Could we have picked the best 50-over team in England from the MetroBank One-Day Cup and had them over in the sub-continent playing in similar conditions a month before the tournament?
Priceisright: The team seemed to take the claim of double world champions for granted. There was no fight, belief or resilience to bounce back after multiple disappointments. The team seemed to always be wrong and with an ageing squad, it’s difficult to see what’s next for the ODI format.
Jim: One word – Stokes. As good a player as he is….to come back so close to the WC has just ruined the plans they had in place. England legend but this decision was one thing only – selfish.
SebD: Jos Buttler is a world-class player, but is having the captaincy, the gloves and being a senior batter too much? Great though he is, so too Joe Root, I’m not sure they’re in the same league as Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan when it comes to leadership. Captaincy and leadership are different attributes.
JordanH: Brendon McCullum needs to step in as ODI/T20 coach. 2015 was a disaster of a World Cup, changes happened and we won the 2019 tournament, although Test cricket suffered, now it’s role reversal. Test cricket is going great, ODI is suffering. Two different coaches is not working.
Jules: It’s difficult to be mad at this group after all the joy they’ve brought in the last four years but at the same time we cannot be sentimental. This team needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Seven of this side cannot see another WC.
The Cricket World Cup continues Friday, as Pakistan face South Africa (9am on Sky Sports Cricket, 9.30am start), before a double-header on Saturday sees Australia take on New Zealand (5.30am on Sky Sports Cricket, 6am start) and the Netherlands play Bangladesh (9am on Sky Sports Mix, 9.30am start).
England are next in action against hosts India on Sunday (8am on Sky Sports Cricket, 8.30am start), with their qualification hopes in the balance. Sri Lanka are next in action on Monday and can boost their semi-final hopes against Afghanistan (8am on Sky Sports Cricket, 8.30am start).
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