A rejuvenated England's quest for redemption

A rejuvenated England's quest for redemption

Photo credit: Reuters

"The Bangladeshi Tigers have knocked the England Lions out of the World Cup. One of the greatest days in Bangladesh cricket history. One of the lowest points in English history."
- An excerpt from commentary when Bangladesh defeated England by 15 runs in the 2015 World Cup.

England is now a dominant force in ODI cricket. But this was not always the case.

For long, the puritans controlling the reins of English cricket turned a blind eye to the shorter format of the game and reserved all their adulation for the oldest form, the elite world of Test cricket. To borrow from Sanjay Manjrekar, ODIs to them were like 'bits and pieces', entertainment to embrace only during World Cups. Of course, they came close to desecrating their staunch beliefs by playing in three World Cup finals. They lost to an indomitable West Indies in 1979. A baffling Mike Gatting reverse sweep humbled them against Australia in 1987, and in 1992, they were simply outclassed by Imran Khan's Pakistan. And so, their tryst with World Cup finals came to an end, apparently.

Dejected with failures in ODIs, England concentrated their focus on Test cricket. They loved the beauty of the red Dukes ball, the fragrance of white jerseys and the pride of the Test cap. For them, it was a symbol of aristocracy, a certain elitism that reminded the nostalgic crowd draped in fine suits and hats of the days of yesteryear glory. After all, they invented the game and Test cricket was the royalty.

Until one night when everything changed. It was March 9, 2015, in Adelaide. Bangladesh knocked the team out of the World Cup in the group stage and English cricket was forced to hang its head in shame. It was the agony of defeat that inflicted a wound so deep that England would writhe in pain for years. Bangladesh back then was not the rising power of the present day. They were a wandering band waiting to be accepted by the top honchos in the hegemony of cricketing power. England stirred and sensed that the time had come to clear its conscience of the ignorance and sense of belittlement towards ODI cricket.

Till 2015, England was like an athlete always trying to catch up with others in the race. Their ODI cricket play was primitive and their players outdated. The likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, despite an impeccable record in Test cricket, were no longer fit for the white ball format. A change was inevitable, an overhaul was needed. Ironically, the man to lead the charge was Eoin Morgan, England's newly appointed captain for the 2015 World Cup, after Alastair Cook's retirement in 2014.

Post the 2015 World Cup, there was a masterstroke from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). They appointed Andrew Strauss, England's former captain, as the Director of England Cricket in May 2015. It was a move that would shape the future course of events and change the dynamics of English cricket.

 “Andrew has brought enormous credibility, measured thinking, strong leadership and exceptional insight and we have been extremely fortunate to have worked so closely with him for the last three and a half years. He has improved the ways we work and set the direction for the men’s Test, One-Day and T20 teams," said Tom Harrison, ECB's Chief Executive Officer, after Strauss stepped down from his director position in October 2018.

Strauss, from the beginning of his tenure, stressed the importance of focusing on ODI cricket. He convinced the ECB to spend more to improve the infrastructure of England's domestic ODI tournaments. It's something that according to the critics has led to England's downfall in Test cricket and it's a narrative that has been at the centre of many heated arguments among cricket experts over the years. One thing is clear, however. Strauss's determined approach paid dividends as England soon began to produce some destructive white ball cricketers.

“I’m going to play for England."
- Eoin Morgan when he was 16 years old. (Source: Irish Times)

Retaining Eoin Morgan as captain of the team will probably remain Strauss's greatest decision as director. Despite his failures in the 2015 edition, Morgan was singled out as the man fit to lead a rejuvenated England on the road to redemption. And Morgan was more than happy to grab the opportunity, confident in his tactical acumen and shrewd cricketing brain. He dropped the likes of Anderson and Broad and aimed at forging a team that could dismantle any opponent in their path. Morgan found an able partner in Trevor Bayliss, who was appointed head coach of the England cricket team on May 26, 2015. The duo adopted the modern-day approach to ODI cricket of 'see the ball, hit the ball' and encouraged the outfit to play an aggressive brand of cricket. Morgan later admitted that they took a leaf from the New Zealand cricket book and tried to emulate its approach of playing the game without inhibitions, dilemmas or fear.

“New Zealand cricket had embodied playing fun cricket under [Brendon] McCullum. Playing against them, we were a little bit jealous. We weren’t enjoying our cricket, and that was something we wanted to change. Transforming your game from an average-scoring side to one who scored 350 or 400 is extremely exciting and fun to be part of," said Morgan, in an interview to Wisden in May 2017.

England played their first ODI series after the 2015 World Cup debacle against the same team they tried to mirror: New Zealand. They scored a mammoth 408 in the first match and subsequently thrashed New Zealand by 210 runs. They crossed the 350-run barrier thrice and the 300-run barrier once in the four-match series. The world watched in amazement as the era of mayhem had begun and it would change the way ODI cricket was played. Players like Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid formed the core of a juggernaut that has won 65 out of the 97 matches they played between June 2015 and July 2019, with a win-loss ratio of 2.5. To put that into perspective, their win-loss ratio was 1.003 starting from 1971 till March 9, 2015, the day they lost against Bangladesh. In the last four years, they have won ODI series in every Test-playing nation except India, a series they lost 1-2, and South Africa, where they lost 2-3 (they are yet to play an ODI series against Afghanistan).

This is an England seeking redemption, this is a team hell-bent on setting right the past woeful records in ODIs. They have woven vengeance and courage together in perfect harmony. England has made peace with the Devil on their backs and forged weapons that rain hellfire.

They now possess the weapons that will reduce the mighty to the meek and allows them to voyage into uncharted waters that will shape the future of cricket as we know it.