England are leaving nothing to chance in their preparations for the 2015 World Cup. After Friday’s second one-day international in the series against Australia, they have another 26 one-day matches in the 13 months before the tournament starts.
They may need all of them. From being a slick outfit with all the answers a mere six months ago, the side led by Alastair Cook have suddenly become plodders with too many questions. Clearly, what worked in England in June may not be functional in Australia in January.
And it is in Australia and New Zealand that the World Cup is being played. The pitches are bouncier and faster but also less homogeneous. One size does not fit all. Australia, it was clear after a single match, are playing a different brand of cricket.
Ashley Giles, England’s limited-overs coach, recognised this by leaving the off-spinner James Tredwell out of the first match in Melbourne. He knows that Australia’s batsmen will run down the pitch at Tredwell at any given opportunity. But that in itself is barely adequate.
“We need to think of a game plan that will win us the World Cup,” Giles said. “That is why we did horses for courses in Melbourne and didn’t play Treddy as a front-line spinner. Aussies have played spin really well and obviously it is a game plan under [coach] Darren Lehmann.”
England still have Cook and Ian Bell pencilled in as their preferred openers for the World Cup. It is the No 3 slot to which they may have to give more thought. But there is no mood to go for the Australian option of out-and-out sluggers at the top, for the simple reason that they do not exist.
“I don’t mean we’re going to be stubborn and say, ‘This is how it is and sod you lot’,” said Giles. “We do have to adapt to different conditions and, of course, the game is always moving forward. So although our basic template for playing might remain the same or similar – I don’t see us ever going back to what you might call a pinch-hitter up front – but we might have to play with a different tempo.”
For the rest of this five-match series, England must refuse to be intimidated by Australia’s muscular tactics with both bat and ball. Under Lehmann they almost wear it as badge of honour to put the squeeze on opponents.
George Bailey, one of their gentler souls, said that it was a source of pride to have seen three England players leave the tour. Steven Finn will depart in the next few days completely bereft of form and unselectable, according to Giles. He follows Jonathan Trott (stress-related illness) and Graeme Swann (retired).
Bailey said: “There’s a little bit of pride in terms of we’re making it so uncomfortable for the guys, whether that’s through form or fitness. I don’t think necessarily any of them are related. It could just be a coincidence that three of them have happened to do that. The way we have played and the intensity and the media beat-up of the series has been pretty big. There’s no doubt there’s been a lot of scrutiny.”
There seems little doubt that Australia’s aggressive strategy affected the decisions of Trott, who was already ill and given a bruising reception by Mitchell Johnson in the first Test in Brisbane, and Swann, who called it a day after Australia constantly assaulted his bowling. They are not about to back down for the rest of the trip.
“I still think we have a lot of work to go but there’s a brand of one-day cricket that we’re certainly working towards and it’s an aggressive brand, it’s an attacking brand of cricket,” Bailey said. “I think it suits us, though there will be times when it won’t come off.
“You certainly hope it will be too much for England in this series, we hope that it is a brand of cricket that will take us onwards and upwards through the World Cup. We hope that it’s a way of cricket that not only will be good enough for England in this series but will be good enough for the world come February next year.” England have 26 games to ensure otherwise.