Nick Knight: England must study top four teams in search for answers

Many of the players in the last four are the Test men who adapt their games

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The Independent Online

The top four sides in the competition have qualified for the semi-finals of this World Cup. That is a rare and good thing. All have their share of high-quality players but there are plenty of other characteristics and common themes they possess.

The character of the captain often shapes the team. All four have outstanding leaders. On the pitch tactically they are all solid, aware, thoughtful, innovative but, perhaps more importantly, they are hugely respected figures within the team. To a man they lead by example. Hence, when they stand in front of their players, all sit up and listen.

The captain-coach relationship is also crucial. I like to see a dominant, forthright captain who is seen publically to be in charge and a quieter, supportive coach who occupies the back seat and operates behind the front line preparing the team. I think this dynamic is definitely evident in three of the teams. The relationship between Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann, captain and coach of Australia is less easy to discern. Wherever the true power lies, Clarke is publicly their boss.

Many will have their view on the make-up of a one-day team. With such a crowded fixture list it is a difficult balance. What do you pick? A team full of format specialists or simply those superior players who usually fill most of the prime slots in the Test side?

Interestingly, many of the players in the last four are the Test men who adapt their games accordingly. Thus, the evidence suggests only a couple of specialists are required to make a complete limited-overs side. I totally agree.

If all good teams are well led, they also frequently contain group leaders who help the captain but also help mould morals and ethics. It is no coincidence that our quartet all have that.

Understandably not everyone is comfortable in this role but if a team has such support that the captain and other players can rely on, it creates a stable environment. All players can feed off that.

To use England as an example, it was obvious that Eoin Morgan was too often isolated in the middle. Look what happened. When planning and building a team for a World Cup, the importance of leaders is paramount.

The 50-over game is already an extension of T20. Big hitters, fast bowlers, dynamic and athletic fielders. These are players in whom instinct and flair are vital. So, too, is exposure to the many domestic T20 leagues around the world.

The IPL is now obligatory for cricketers to experience huge crowds, pressure situations where you are paid a lot of money to perform. You cannot let your team or your employer down. Mixing with some of the best players in the world, tapping into their vast knowledge, can only expand learning.

It is simple. If England want to improve in this format, many changes have to be made, and a good starting point would be to encourage participation in the IPL. To highlight the point, Australia’s World Cup squad have 13 players who have played in the IPL, South Africa have 10, New Zealand have seven.

Naturally, the whole India squad is involved. England will have two in the forthcoming season. Others have not been signed, partly I guess because of the lack of enthusiasm.

Having players with the quality of A B De Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, Virat Kohli, Brendon McCullum and Mitchell Starc is crucial. But don’t underestimate the importance of many of these common traits that the world’s four best sides have. England are soul searching. Study the others for the answers.