The Royal London One-Day Cup – a step in the right direction for English ODI cricket

When England crashed out of the 2015 World Cup on a loathsome autumn’s evening in Adelaide, they were the architects of their own failures, the victims of their own inadequacies. The ECB’s penchant for nonsensical One-Day Domestic paradigms left England’s squad exposed, underprepared even, on an unforgiving world stage. While Eoin Morgan scratched his head in tandem with all and sundry – bemused by yet another middling English batting performance – the dearth of quality on the domestic circuit seemingly spelt trouble for England as a One-Day powerhouse going forward.

Their batsman looked frail, disconcerted by the tempo at which to bat in a one-day game. Old pros were made to look amateurish in a tournament where run scoring seemed overtly facile. England’s bowling cartel lacked creativity on flat wickets that demanded cricket entrepreneurism, bravado and a hint of intuition. Prognosis: England went to Australia ill-equipped through the systematic failings of its own board.

The calamitous 2015 CWC campaign was met with perpetual acrimony for some months following – and understandably so. Former England captain Sir Ian Botham labelled England’s performance ‘embarrassing’. The game against New Zealand at the cake tin – where England mustered just 123 with the bat before having it tracked down inside thirteen overs – was seen by Botham as the worst performance in his forty-years of watching England in one-day cricket. Perhaps the most pertinent and cogent of his statements, though, was that England were failing to play the game ‘the modern way’.

The ECB went hurriedly in search of a fix to remedy England’s woes in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, sacking Peter Mores and anointing favourite son Andrew Strauss as head of cricket in May of 2015. England’s one-day side was subsequently remodelled and pimped-out to ensure its first home series post-World Cup against New Zealand would not end in similar fashion to their infamous ‘windy-city’ pool A encounter.

The ECB’s changes were preemptive and told of a ‘buck stops with us’ approach to One-Day cricket going forward. Ultimately, they prevented a preened, unsullied board from incurring any collateral damage that would have left them red-faced going into a home Ashes summer, which was a more pertinent agenda at the time. At this stage, they were yet to get to the crux of why England’s fifty-over form was teetering on the edge of mediocrity.

In a beautiful irony, the World Cup provided English cricket with a crossroads that triggered a mutual awakening of the ECB and its players from a three-year hangover known as the Yorkshire Bank 40, or indeed any other forty-over incarnation of England’s domestic game.

English cricket was systematically failing to exercise the underpinnings of one-day international cricket in its domestic competition on multiple fronts in the lead-up to the World Cup. Its players were unconscious to the requisites and intricacies across all disciplines of the fifty-over format for a multitude of reasons, which have been duly answered by the ECB over the past year in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Batsmen have learnt to negotiate the three power plays of a fifty-over game with greater efficiency, maximising run-scoring through the middle-overs to engineer a total. Pacing an innings is key in the one-day game. If we look at one of the inherent downfalls of England’s batsmen in the 2015 World Cup, it was the loss of wickets inside the first twenty to thirty overs of the game. In fact, twenty-four wickets, or 54% of all wickets lost, fell inside the first thirty overs of England’s six innings. Against the full member sides, the statistics are more harrowing; two-thirds of England’s wickets were lost inside the first thirty overs.

This is because a forty-over game has no period of slow-down or consolidation for batsmen. It’s the intermediary between a twenty-twenty game and a fifty-over game whereby batsmen feel compelled to continue scoring freely without the fear of losing their wicket. The last ten overs of a fifty-over game are crucial in mounting a total in excess of three hundred – which is mandatory in an age of big bats and twenty-twenty innovation. It’s necessary then that there are wickets in hand during the last ten overs of the innings. Ideally, of these wickets, one should be a set batsman. Before 2014, the death overs of a one-day game ceased to exist. Just one fifty-over tournament was played in 2014 in the lead-up to the World Cup, on forty occasions was a batting side bowled out before their allotment of fifty-overs.

Bowlers have found solace through instituting slower balls and yorkers in the death overs of a fifty-over game, while swing bowlers have come into their own during the first power play of the innings. I look at Essex opening pair David Masters and Matt Quinn as the new age archetype of a fifty-over bowler despite their age. Consistent and economical while possessing the ability to swing the ball both ways. Their deliveries seldom err from a full/ good length, giving the ball every opportunity to swing.

Masters has the best economy of the RLODC thus far (3.47) in 2016 (for bowlers who have bowled more than thirty overs), while Quinn is third in the wicket taking ranks with nine wickets in four games.

The first ten overs of a fifty-over innings have become as economically orientated as they are dependent on wicket taking. That’s why Quinn and Masters’ combined twenty-overs play such a pivotal role in the outcome of an opposition total.

Admittedly, many of England’s players can hardly use the domestic competition as an excuse for their World Cup failings given their limited opportunities while performing their England duties, but perhaps scheduling compounds the issue. England played a total of twelve ODI games in the four months prior to the World Cup of 2015. If they are to challenge in the 2019 edition, the focus must be on preparedness, giving players as much exposure to fifty-over, white ball cricket as possible.

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