A myriad of reasons have been given for England’s terrible World Cup defence. The instability caused by awarding central contracts – with David Willey, one of England’s best players in the tournament, the lone man not to get a contract. England being ill-suited for India, despite the abundance of Indian Premier League experience. Allrounders who have proved so effective in Twenty20 – Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran and even vice-captain Moeen Ali – being altogether less-suited to the 50-over game; from having an abundance of batting and bowling during the T20 World Cup triumph a year ago, England often seemed lacking in both areas in India.
But covering the World Cup in India, England’s most striking failing seemed to be of their tempo with the bat. From 2015-19, as England soared to number one in the ODI rankings and then won the World Cup, one of the side’s hallmarks was their ‘cruising speed’, as Matt Roller and I explored in our book White Hot. Essentially, England were masters of scoring at a run rate approaching – or sometimes even exceeding – six runs an over during the middle overs while eschewing risk. When batting together from 2015-19, for instance, Eoin Morgan and Joe Root scored at 5.9 an over and still averaged 60 – combining a rapid rate with dependability.
Yet in India, England gave the impression of having mislaid this skill. At times they were criticised for batting both too slowly and too recklessly. In a sense, both critiques were right. Beginning too slowly – and not being able to rotate strike as freely as before – pushed England into a position of having to take dangerous risks.
Consider the dismissals of Root against Sri Lanka and Ben Stokes against India. From their tenth balls, both succumbed in ways that seemed rash: Root run-out attempting an ill-judged single to backward point, Stokes backing away to Mohammad Shami. But these wickets had to be understood in context: Root had only scored three from his first nine balls, Stokes none. The failure to accumulate easily – partly the product of a lack of 50-over cricket, partly the result of fine opposition bowling and shrewd captaincy – pushed England into ill-judged choices.
It was a reminder of what a unique game 50-over cricket is. For all the talk of ODIs becoming like extended T20 matches a few years ago, the game has very specific rhythms. England were out by the time they had become reacquainted with the demands of cricket’s middle sibling.
Of course, there was still much to enjoy in India. Dharamshala was a particular delight: from the stunning views from the stadium to the Triund Trek up into the Himalayas, loved by journalists and a series of England players and support staff alike. From a global perspective, the vibrant displays from Afghanistan and Netherlands also suggested a game gaining greater strength-in-depth.
West Indies, of course, didn’t qualify for the World Cup in India. Yet England’s poor World Cup display imbues the series with great significance, especially with the Caribbean co-hosting the T20 World Cup next June. This tour is, essentially, the first step in England building a new white-ball team to replace the side who – notwithstanding their travails in India – delivered the finest ever era of English limited-overs cricket from 2015-22.
After the 2015 World Cup, England needed to transform their entire approach. Now, the need is altogether simpler: a change in personnel, yes, more than a change in method. Harry Brook, Will Jacks and Ben Duckett should be mainstays of the ODI side for years to come; Gus Atkinson and John Turner will ensure that the side does not lack for pace, whole Rehan Ahmed will get a much-anticipated extended run as leg spinner too.
Over the coming weeks, England fans will hope, the shape of the team to mount a tilt on next year’s T20 World Cup and the 2027 ODI World Cup will become clear.
Tim Wigmore is a cricket writer for The Daily Telegraph and the author of books including Crickonomics, a Waterstones Sports book of the year in 2022, and White Hot, the story of how England became double world champions.