Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The English Turnaround

The matches going on over the past few weeks have provided really interesting and unexpected results. Pakistan securing a seemingly unlikely win over Sri Lanka in Galle; that too after being in a precarious situation on day 4 and more than a day’s play was washed away. Bangladesh finally achieving that elusive series win over their ‘Big Brothers’ India and threatening to white wash the series by winning the dead rubber. But for me, the most fascinating and captivating series on display was England, or rather “New” England defeating the World Cup runners-up New Zealand 3-2 in the recently concluded ODI series at home.

Before the start of the series, no one would have given a chance to the English team. Although they had managed to level the test series at a match a piece, New Zealand in ODI format are a really formidable side, in any conditions. The English team had many new faces, in a possible bid to form a team for the next world cup, after a horrendous performance in this year’s quadrennial event. The plague faced by the English team was known by all; there was a light year’s gap between their approach to the ODI game and other top teams. This mindset had not changed for the English side which in recent years had become more focused on its approach in the test matches. The fact that they became the top test team in the world even furthered their perception that the same approach will prove to be successful in the shorter formats as well. A grave mistake, as they all would now agree in hindsight.

After their dismal exit from the world cup league stage and sacking of coach Peter Moores, English team had became the butt of many jokes. Voices supporting the reinstating of flamboyant Kevin Pietersen were gaining strength. After all, he had also in many public and social platforms voiced his keen desire to don the English colours again. In a bid to earn his place back, Pietersen even let go of his lucrative IPL contract with the Sunrisers Hydrabad and went back to county circuit. As luck would have it, Andrew Strauss was appointed the new Director of Cricket for ECB. The same Strauss, about whom Pietersen had forwarded insulting remarks to the visiting South African team players. Since then, there was no love lost between the two.

Players like Pietersen are polarising figures. They will always manage to elicit extreme reactions from supporters and critics alike. But everyone deserves a second chance in life. Pietersen was determined to prove that his career for England was not yet over. He scored 355* for Surrey against Leicestershire and hammered his point through. Now it was a case of when is his inclusion in a depleted, dejected and inexperienced English team is announced. But Strauss was keen to take out his own personal vendetta against Pietersen. KP was informed that his England career is over. The old age adage is – score runs and get selected. I mean, how many more was Pietersen expected to score to get back his place? And if he was not to be selected irrespective of the runs that he scores, why was an olive branch extended to him in the first place? Andrew Strauss let go of an opportunity which might have made him the better man as Pietersen’s experience would have proved to be vital for the young English players.

Back to the present. England have defeated Kiwis 3-2 in an ODI series that will be remembered as a run fest and the records that broke in the process. A staggering 3151 runs were scored, most runs in a bilateral series surpassing the previous best between India and Pakistan in 2004. Out of these, Brendon Mccullum contributed only 101. Just imagine by how much the count would have increased had he been in his usual full flow. England scored 400 in an innings for the first time and also chased down a target of 350 to record their highest ever run chase. But more than anything, it was the mindset of the English team that was stunning. Completely transformed, the English never looked like their former self; the tentative and docile batting unit that never backed itself to chase 275 against Bangladesh in the world cup. This ‘New’ England was a refreshing change. Full of positivity, aggression and self belief, they stood toe-to-toe with the gritty Kiwis. Let it be Joe Root’s brilliance or skipper Eoin Morgan’s belligerence, pacers Wood’s and Willey’s relentlessness or Adil Rashid’s all-round talent, this English team was up for any challenge. The youngster’s also chipped in with contributions – openers Jason Roy and Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Sam Billings, Joss Buttler or even the last minute call-up Johnny Bairstow. Johnny’s ‘Bravo’ act ensured an English win in the series decider at Durham. This given the fact that a day ago, he was playing for Yorkshire and was called in as a replacement for injured Buttler.

Suddenly the mood is upbeat. The team is garnering support all around the country even after the world cup debacle. No one seems to remember that failure, no one seems to miss Kevin Pietersen. If England continues to play with this new found confidence and aggression, we are in for many exciting days ahead. And it was a long time coming. The game is still being played majorly among 10 test playing nations. We need all of those to be competitive enough with each other, then only the game can spread globally. A structure gains strength if its foundation is strong. The game of cricket will benefit too given that its founder nation gains its lost strength.

DHCF Nishant Raizaday for diehardcricketfans

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