These are challenging, exciting and worrying times for England. Being under new management is a cause for both optimism and uncertainty. The former was outstripping the latter until the heavy defeat against Sri Lanka on Sunday, which has left everybody involved in a perplexed state.
Jimmy Anderson, the team’s veteran bowler who has been around for 12 years, emphasised yesterday that the influence of senior players and their advice to the captain, Alastair Cook, were crucial elements. Somewhere along the way, he conceded, it had stopped happening.
“I don’t think over the winter that senior players helped as much as they could with taking pressure off Cooky,” said Anderson at Old Trafford yesterday before the third match of five in the one-day international series. “A captain’s job is difficult and he needs his senior players around him to share the burden.”
Cook probably needs all the help going because conversely he is also being expected to shoulder more of the burden for team affairs under the regime of Peter Moores. The intention is that it will be Cook’s team, which happens to be coached by Moores.
In these circumstances it was unfortunate that Cook should miss a match so early in the piece as he did at Chester-le-Street on Sunday, when England were all out for 99 and lost by 157 runs. England need him at present as both runscorer and leader. He is expected to return today.
Anderson, who has played 79 Tests with Cook for England, said: “I think he’s the sort of guy that looks to improve constantly, whether it’s with his bat or with the captaincy, and I think that’s something that we’ll definitely see over the next few months. He’s going to be given a lot of responsibility, I think, on and off the field and I’m sure he’ll thrive on that.”
It may all not mean much. If England start to win again it hardly matters who is talking to whom. But finding a way to win is connected, it seems, to the establishment of a different philosophy. Cook, Anderson, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad, when he returns, are the elder statesmen of the team. With the World Cup next March and two home Test series against subcontinental opponents and the Ashes next summer, there is minimal latitude.
“If we want to win the World Cup, we’re going to have to start playing well quickly,” said Anderson. “I think the senior players have got a huge role to play. As a captain, it can’t always be his job to discipline people or think of tactics or make bowling changes.
“It’s everyone’s job to be thinking about the game, how the team can improve and be offering that advice. It doesn’t always have to come from the captain. That’s where the senior players come in. When we’ve done well in the past is when we’ve had five or six guys who can stand up in the dressing room and give feedback, that shares the burden and takes a bit of pressure off the captain.
“When you’re in Australia and you get on to a bit of a down slope, you can get a little bit insular I guess, start worrying about your own game perhaps. It’s a real chance for us now, we’ve got a new coach and some new faces around, we can really start to rebuild this team.”
If England continue where they left off on Sunday this line of thought could go belly up pretty soon. Sri Lanka, who have lost only one of their 11 ODIs this year, are buoyant after Sunday’s crushing victory, a state that was enhanced when they saw the pitch at Old Trafford yesterday.
“It looks like a subcontinental pitch,” said their captain Angelo Mathews. “We played some positive cricket in Durham and that’s the way we’ve got to go against the English team. It was a great victory but we’ve got to stay level-headed at the same time as playing positive, aggressive cricket.”
Anderson, who is famously grumpy, which he cleverly plays up to, appears to have been given a fresh lease of life by the changes at the top and in his bowling partners.
“There’s some new guys there that I’m getting used to playing with and talking to,” he said. “They’ve got fresh ideas and things that could help me as well as me helping them. So it’s an exciting time. Obviously,we didn’t play well but there’s a real strong feeling that we can be successful as a team.
“That’s what we’ve worked on the last couple of days, playing to our strengths and being positive about our cricket because maybe that’s something we didn’t do the other day, we were a little bit tentative and, hopefully, we can go out tomorrow and be very very positive.”
Both sides then clearly intend to be positive. What price a high-scoring nerve-shredder? The summer and the series need it.
Old Trafford - Third ODI details
A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, G S Ballance, J E Root, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wk), C J Jordan, J C Tredwell, JM Anderson, H F Gurney.
H R D L Thirimanne, T M Dilshan, K C Sangakkara (wk), D P M D Jayawardene, A D Mathews (capt), S M A Priyanjan, L D Chandimal, K M D N Kulasekara, S M S M Senanayake, K T G D Prasad, L M Malinga.
Looks dry and the surface between these sides here three years ago was a slow turner. But there has been bounce this year, which should nominally favour England.
Sky Sports 2, 1.30-10pm
Rain likely throughout the afternoon. Max temp: 13C