There is a temptation to ask ‘what went wrong’ following England’s dismal ten-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka that sealed their World Cup exit. It may be a more pertinent line of enquiry to try to work out ‘what went right’ during a campaign that flattered to deceive from the start.
The tie with India proved the high point, they were beaten by Bangladesh and Ireland, were pushed hard by the Netherlands and only managed to beat South Africa and the West Indies – two teams with recent pedigree of failing to close out important matches.
Finally, when it really mattered, the lack of strength in depth and the sheer length of time that the team had been on tour caught up with them and they were ruthlessly shown the way to the door by an on-song Sri Lankan team.
It is not the first time that they have been so humiliated by the men in blue and yellow. Cast your mind back to the when Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga put on 286 for the first wicket as a target of 322 was achieved with more than 12 overs to spare. The way Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan were going, 322 would likely not have been enough in Colombo either.
England boasts an impressive Test team – as a rare but fully deserved series win in Australia would attest to – and they are the reigning world champions at Twenty20 level, but for whatever reason, their 50-over form has never progressed from being patchy and enigmatic to the sort of consistency required to make a big impact at World Cups.
It has always seemed that putting such a huge emphasis on the Ashes campaign leaves the World Cup and other ODI series as mere afterthoughts to the big event. We must remember that having a World Cup following a tour of Australia puts a huge stress on the players involved, but it seemed to do Australia themselves little harm when they carried all before them in 2003 and 2007; also tournaments where England disappeared without trace, their cricket hardly remembered in the wake of off-field issues (the Zimbabwe situation in 2003, Flintoff's pedalo in 2007).
England won the Ashes as much through the way in which they prepared than they way they played. Arriving in Australia before the home side had concluded a tour of India and playing first-class matches meant that when the series began for real, they were ready for anything.
With a seven-match ODI series at the end of the tour – during which a number of Australians were allowed time off – England had little chance of a similar period of acclimatisation and build-up to the World Cup. Or did they?
The World Cup squad must have been more or less picked by the time the ODI series in Australia got underway, and if it wasn’t, surely this was the wrong time to be introducing new players and strategies. With that in mind, could a shadow squad have been sent out to Australia to allow the main players to recover ahead of the World Cup?
Eoin Morgan wouldn’t have got injured and perhaps James Anderson and others would have arrived in India fresh and ready to perform at their peak rather than having no chance to do so following just four days at home. There are always two sides to an argument and logistically it may not have been possible, for all sorts of reasons; but if England, or any team are to be given the best chance of winning every tournament and series they enter, it might be worth some thought. There is no harm either in having a large squad of players with international experience under their belt, creating competition for places and ensuring that the hunger to play remains.
There is also no doubt that England badly missed Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad once they returned home. The move to open with Pietersen always seemed a strange one having been previously untested, but it does put a lot of pressure on Jonathan Trott, Ravi Bopara and the rest to keep the run-rate flowing if Pietersen, who is, along with Morgan, one of England’s only players who you feel is capable of shifting up and down the gears during an innings in the way that a Ponting, de Villiers or Yuvraj can during telling innings, is dismissed early.
In absentia, Pietersen and Broad’s stock has risen immeasurably. Justifiably so, because the struggles of Bopara, Collingwood, Prior and others only serve to highlight the lack of strength in depth for England in the one-day game at present. There is already talk of one of Pietersen or Broad replacing Andrew Strauss as one-day captain. It is not the only shake-up that England need if, by 2015, they are to shake off the tag of World Cup nearly-men once and for all.
© Cricket World 2011