England, as you are probably aware, just the won the World Cup. So did the American Women in the Soccer World Cup. The latter is considered the best women’s soccer team on earth. And so it would, of course, follow, that the former is also the best cricket team in the world.
Not so fast.
They are most decidedly not.
Because cricket is a funny game.
They are — probably — the best One Day International team out there. Though that is for sure debatable. They didn’t waltz into the final and blow the doors off their opponent like the US women did. Instead they backed in and won via two or three dubious rules and one not-so-great-but-not-as-terrible-as-everyone-thinks umpiring call. But, still, England are world champions. So best in the world, right? Again, not so fast.
In cricket there are three formats. England is good and maybe the best in exactly one of them. The ODI. This has been their sole focus for almost four years. To the very great detriment of their Test playing team. In fact, several of the players who will put on the whites and play Australia next week haven’t played with a red ball in a year. Most people agree that England’s middle order for Test matches might be the weakest it’s been in a generation, if not the worst all time.
But cricket is cricket, right? If you can hit a white ball in an ODI why can’t you hit a red ball in a Test? Because it’s different. Very different. Test batting requires patience and shot selection. You can’t waste your wicket. And the pitches are different after four or five days than they are after just a few hours. The games have a different pace, a different mood. The bowlers are different. The ball moves differently. And it looks different. It’s a completely different game. Barely, even, the same sport. The only thing that is about the same is the fielding. Everything else is night and day.
When England won the Ashes in Australia in 2011 in what was one of the more remarkable and amazing performances by an England team in recent memory, they promptly went out afterward and lost six of the seven ODIs against the very same team a few weeks later.
This year it’s the opposite. After winning the World Cup a couple weeks back, England now have to go play five Tests against Australia with that aforementioned middle batting order that will need to play out of their minds to win even just one of the five matches.
The ICC rankings tell the story all by themselves. In ODIs, England are ranked number one. In Tests, number four.
But one also learns from those rankings that Australia’s Test side is struggling too, as they are ranked below England at number five. But what Australia has that England does not is a batting order that has played a lot of red ball cricket over the last year. And that will probably be the difference maker.
Sure, it would be fun for England to have the perfect cricketing summer. Win the World Cup. Win back the Ashes. But it’s probably not going to happen. Because it’s cricket, and being good at both games is not impossible, but also not easy, and not something England has focused on. For the last four years, it’s been all ODI, all the time., But now they have to play the Ashes. And the ECB has dropped all support for the ODI domestically. So the England players are like men without a country now. They are good at the one game their board no longer cares about, and middling at one that they have to play the marquee version of starting in just a few days. It’s an impossible and unfair position for the players.
And that’s the last thing to remember: none of this is the fault of the players. They go where they are told, play what they are told to play. When they are — very possibly — white washed in front of their home fans after the Champagne Super Over of the World Cup, then that will be a black mark on the ECB that the players unfortunately will have to bear the brunt of.
England are World Champions. But glory is fleeting. Even more so in cricket. And even more so this summer.