In 1882, following the England cricket team’s ignominious defeat to a group of plucky upstarts from Australia, an English newspaper, The Sporting Times, published an “obituary” in which it lamented the death of English cricket, and reported that its body would “be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” Thus was born one of the world’s great franchise competitions: a biennial competition between England and Australia known as The Ashes.
After today’s equally ignominious defeat to a group of plucky upstarts (to wit: Bangladesh) in the World Cup in Australia, English newspapers and commentators are once again ululating in despair. England, they say, lacked vision; the management was obsessed with metrics and data and not enough with inspiring performances; the out-of-form captain of the one-day squad (Alastair Cook) was replaced far too late in the day by another out-of-form captain (Eoin Morgan); the bowling was weak; the batting was timid; the attitude over-cautious; and in every way England lacked self-belief and confidence. One can only hope, run the lamentations, that from the embers of this catastrophic defeat a phoenix might rise.
That might be hoping too much. Apart from an aberrant blip when England discovered themselves at the top of the ODI rankings a couple of years ago, blinked in astonishment, and promptly fell again, the country that brought you the game in all its forms has been bad at one-day cricket (and underperformed in virtually every World Cup) for decades. Some have blamed the county structure for this; and this may be the case. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone in England knew that this team was relatively young and untested, that it was rebuilding after the loss of Key Players (hint, hint), and that it was undercooked even under Cook.
All such caveats aside, I, Martin, suspect that one reason England have not shone in one-day internationals is that (whisper it!) we’re not that interested in ’em. Unlike nearly all other countries, England’s grounds are regularly filled for Test matches: for many England fans, The Ashes’ victories over Australia in 2005, 2009, 2011, and 2013 (as well as the losses in 2006–7 and 2013–14) are much more memorable and important than what happened in the one-day series that followed or preceded the Tests. In fact, most would be hard-pressed to remember the scoreline for each series, let alone what happened in which game.
In short, it’s not that England don’t play enough one-day cricket, but they play too many games where the outcome is unimportant, irrelevant, or without context. This must breed a kind of contempt and complacency among the top players, so that when it matters—as in the World Cup—there isn’t the hunger to perform. We’ll have more to say by way of mourning the corpse and reading its entrails in later posts. In the meantime, England will close out their World Cup by taking on fellow losers Afghanistan for stakes that could not be lower than if you buried them in the Mariana Trench. Somehow it seems fitting that England should end up engaged in a campaign as futile as every other one the country has undertaken against Afghanistan—although, we hope, considerably less bloody.