England desperate for winning formula but keeping Alastair Cook hampers experiments

Problems start, though don't end, with under-performing skipper

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The Independent Online

By now, England might have begun to suspect that things could be better. Barely three months out from the World Cup and the team have forgotten how to win, the batsmen have mislaid the habit of scoring runs and the bowlers are regularly uninspired.

The sequences scarcely matter now, though they are seven matches lost out of the last eight ODIs and six series lost out of the last seven. No one could accuse England of peaking too soon.

It is one thing after another. For instance, in the first match of this series last Wednesday, they bowled badly at the start and the end of Sri Lanka’s innings, which made a difficult chase impossible. In the second on Saturday, they batted wretchedly, suggesting later that they failed to adjust to the demands of the pitch quickly enough, which did not excuse the naivety-cum-stupidity of the shots that caused their dismissals.

The players are well aware that their most significant problems are being caused by the batting, most obviously starting but by no means finishing with their captain, Alastair Cook. England have been bowled out in six of their last 10 matches, which includes both games on this tour.

The only player averaging above 40 in one-day internationals since the start of the last English summer is Moeen Ali, largely because of his glittering hundred in Colombo. Of the rest who have been around for a while, which is most of the batting order, almost all are averaging at least five runs per innings and in some cases 10 runs per innings below their career figure.

While this is continuing, we are being assured almost on a daily basis that the  corner will be turned. The fear is that when they do so a 10-ton juggernaut will be coming the other way.

Almost none of what has gone wrong is the fault of James Tredwell, the off-spinner who has made an international career out of proving the sceptics wrong. That was probably why he was set before the travelling press yesterday to try to defend what is rapidly becoming the indefensible. The feeling grows that the plain truth is that this England are simply not good enough.

“Some of our skills may not be and that’s what we’re trying to put right,” said Tredwell, one of life’s more affable souls. “We’re working on those skills that have been highlighted by us but equally by others.”

If England opt not to make any changes in the batting order for the third match in Hambantota tomorrow, they may as well stick with the  status quo until retirement intervenes. At least three players could be justifiably dropped and at least two  batsmen, on this tour, deserve an opportunity.

Cook has one fifty in 18 innings. Ian Bell has not made more than 50 in his last 10 innings and, although if such a player is in the squad he should be in the team, he again is flattering to deceive. Eoin Morgan scored 106 and 54 in successive innings in Australia in January, since when has not made more than 39 in 16 more.

Then there are Alex Hales and James Taylor. Both are entitled to wonder if county form means a jot. Each of them scored three one-day hundreds last summer for their county, Nottinghamshire, each of them would be entitled to consider themselves poorly treated.

Hales ended the season in the England one-day side as opener and, although by that time the runs had dried up, four innings hardly  constituted a chance to get his feet under the international table in this form of the game. Taylor knew he might have to wait a little longer probably because he has spent most of his career waiting.

They should both play tomorrow. If the selectors were looking at runs and form alone, Cook would make way for Hales and Morgan for Taylor, with Bell being continued with for now.

But Cook continues to be the elephant in the room, which is fairly appropriate this week since the tourists have arrived in a region where elephants still roam freely in the streets in a country where they are revered. He has the sustained backing of the selectors and no doubt Paul Downton, the England and Wales Cricket Board managing director, will reiterate that when he arrives to join the squad this week.

Cook will play and since his deputy is Morgan it would be a nonsense to omit the former while not only keeping the latter but elevating him to the captaincy. It is beginning to look a mess.

If it is decided that changes must be made, they might ask Hales to open and move Moeen down to three a week after he scored a hundred in his maiden match as opener. Maybe they will stick with what they have. Maybe they do not know any more. Maybe they do and simply dare not admit it.


Brenkley’s team for Wednesday’s third ODI

A N Cook (capt), A D Hales, M M Ali, J E Root, J W A Taylor, R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wk), C R Woakes, J C Tredwell, S T Finn,  H F Gurney

After the seven-match one-day series against Sri Lanka, England have these warm-up ODIs before the World Cup:

18 Jan Australia (Sydney)

20 Jan India (Brisbane)

23 Jan Australia (Hobart)

30 Jan India (Perth)

9 Feb West Indies (Sydney)

11 Feb Pakistan (Sydney)

World Cup 14 Feb-29 March