Tuesday, March 8

World Cup 2011, and English strategies going ahead

Keven Pietersen's injury and subsequent exit from the tournament could very well prove a blessing in disguise for England; as an England supporter, I am in fact much more excited by Eoin Morgan's re-entry than doused by KP's probable end to one-day career. Pietersen is someone who is self-destructive, and all the talent that he has doesn't save him from that, rather only propels him further to his own annihilation: what it means in a team game and a psychological game like cricket is that it also influences the team. While Strauss's level-headed captaincy and Andy Flower's clear goals have done a lot to stymie that feeling of going-nowhere which often originates from destructive tendencies, England is best served, I believe, by complete absence of Pietersen from the dressing room. Not to speak of what is coming in as replacement - the world's best one-day player, Morgan!

Given the unusual role that KP had been assigned in this tournament, that of an opener, England does seem to be beseiged by new selection issues. Morgan, if indeed fit, is an automatic choice for no. 5 or 6 slot; but who will open with Strauss? Can England afford to weaken their middle order, given that the lower middle hasn't been performing at all (though maybe with Morgan now there, it will start to provide some of its own fireworks), and move up a man from the middle order to the opener's position? KP was performing the role of a sacrifical goat fine so far, so that later on Strauss could build big partnerships with Bell and Trott, but the question is who is up for sacrifice now?

I would say, Collingwood. He has been dropped because of his continued lack of form, but for me, with his courage and never say die, he is not one who should be overlooked. He can bowl as fine as or better than Yardy, and in addition could be the partner for Strauss for the first few overs against most oppositions (except Tait and co.). If he scores runs, better; if he gets his eye in, much better; if he is out first ball, fine: he will still do better than what Yardy can do any day. More runs made, less runs conceded. Isn't that what cricket is all about, in essence?

Four strategies seem to be on the cards for England, and it would be interesting to see with what England go; it is important that they settle on one of them successfully right now, because with their win over South Africa, the next two games appear slightly easier, before the knockouts loom. England should easily win over Bangladesh, and as far as West Indies goes, whether they even want to win or not will depend then on who might be their likely opponent in the quarters depending on those two points.

1. The conservative strategy, which England is most likely to follow and I like the least: Strauss and Bell to open, Morgan in for KP and batting at five or six, Yardy keeps his place.
This is a strategy I might go with against Australia (if England do face the Aussies any time in the knockouts), because Australia won't play Yardy well, but that's about it.

2. The overtly-attacking strategy, which could backfire dangerously: Strauss to open with Luke Wright as a pinch-hitter opener (and thus Wright in place of Yardy), Morgan in for KP.
Heavy risk in giving the ball to Wright for more than three or four overs; against any good opposition, he will be belted around. I also don't have much faith in his batting abilities except hitting an occasional boundary.

3. The defensive strategy, which to me is the wisest presently: Get back Collingwood (in place of Yardy); he is your most experienced one-day player and his guts to stick it out are legendary. Morgan in for KP at five or six.
Even if he doesn't score, the oppositions going forward will be teams like West Indies and probably Sri Lanka or Australia in the knockouts: his wicket-to-wicket line will trouble all those three teams. Get back him as opener; with Strauss playing so well, he will have the time to stick around, and with the new ball even his edges will flow to boundaries. Once he gets some confidence, the old Collingwood with tight singles run will resurface, and England will start looking formidable.

4. The confused strategy, which is always the most foolish: Prior opening with Strauss.
Whoever else is selected and is wherever, how many games do you think Prior can fire in the opening position? I see Prior succeeding neither against Brett Lee nor against Malinga.

What England must ensure is to keep Trott, Bopara and Morgan in the middle order, no matter what. Also, if a wicket falls after the 35-over mark, England must send Morgan in and not wait till the death overs start; Morgan is not hit-and-miss batsman but also technically good, and he will need ten-twenty deliveries to get in. Bopara's position should be fluid and he could be even sent in at four, ahead of Bell and after Trott. I am liking the combination of Trott and Bopara at the crease together, and as minimal the separation between the two, the better it is.

What England must also ensure is to oversee how they are using their bowlers. Swann or Collingwood (if he's there) can bowl a couple of overs right at the beginning with Anderson, then Broad to take over, maybe continuing with Collingwood/Yardy (whoever's selected). It's important to keep Anderson's overs for that 30-34 over time (as Strauss did so well against SA), and Bresnan's overs for all of the 38-50 over mark. I would underuse Bresnan till the time slog overs come into effect. It is important to remember that teams can not only explode in slog overs but also implode: as was so remarkably demonstrated in that nerve-wracking India-England thriller, where both teams chose the latter route and virtually tried everything to lose from winning positions.

According to me, England and India are the strongest contenders for the World Cup this time, but England have a slight edge now with Morgan's coming back in. Dhoni's captaincy has been impressive but he really lacks bowlers and it's difficult to see India not losing an important knockout match with the kind of bowlers they have. Australia is dangerous, especially with Michael Hussey's coming back: the problem with the Aussies is their lack of adaptability to all conditions. Aussies can win against Indians and Springboks, but they will have their work cut out against the English and Sri Lankans. Pakistan is a dangerous side, but their batting is too brittle to last for three knockouts.

To have a look at the other teams, Bangladesh has been terribly disappointing, but their main enemy has been their own complacency. New Zealand is a team out for walloping, and having whitewashed them just before the World Cup, Bangladesh thought that it belongs to the big league: they forgot discipline and character, the mainstays of cricket. Captain Shakib al-Hasan hasn't been too bright either with his toss calls, team selection or bowling changes: in the India game, he came across to me as a coward; he was protecting himself and his reputation rather than taking any risks. I don't see Bangladesh reaching knockouts, and should they do so, they will just be easy meat for the opposition.
It is Ireland for whom the Cup will be remembered: they yet have a potential win over Holland remaining, and if they could upset West Indies or South Africa, we have the possibility of Ireland making to the knockouts! And, even if they don't have Morgan which they should have had, the Irish can go as far as any other team in this tournament: they have good players, they have discipline and maturity, they gel very well as a team, and they play bravely.
West Indies could be dangerous but Dwayne Bravo has to fire: they could then even reach to the finals, with the help of a Gayle-storm or two.

I think England is going to take the Cup.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

"England should easily win over Bangladesh"

:) indeed?

10:02 pm  

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