Why Can’t England Chase?

In the tri-series final at Perth, Mitchell Johnson’s pace and aggression certainly had England on the back foot, leaving them at 46/4 and with little chance of victory. However, as any seasoned England viewer will know, the match was realistically over when Australia posted their total of 278/8.

No other team so often produces such insipid attempts in the face of a halfway sizeable run chase. Chasing 279 today, in what appeared improving batting conditions, England appeared beaten before any real damage was inflicted.

It would perhaps be forgivable if other sides failed so often too. But the game has evolved, totals are getting higher, run chases are more daring – England haven’t followed suit.

If we compare them to the other members of the ‘big three’, India and Australia, England’s run chase record is embarrassingly poor. Since the last World Cup England have won 24 ODI’s batting second. Of these victories, just 3 of them came with successful chases of totals in excess of 250. It has been a perennial problem for England, as other sides have become more fearless in chasing large totals, they have become more stagnant.

It can be argued that since the last World Cup, 250 no longer represents a tough chase. Indeed, in many conditions it can be barely a par score. In the same time period, Australia have triumphed 18 times whilst batting second, including 8 successful chases of 250+. This means that in almost 50% of their successful run chases, Australia are overcoming sizeable totals.

Looking at India, who are often seen as the modern masters of ODI run chases, they have arguably an ever greater record. Winning 36 matches in the last four years when chasing, and making in excess of 250 in 14 of those cases. Led by the run chasing genius of Virat Kohli, India often make chases as large as 300 look routinely easy.

So why can’t England chase large totals?

I think the major reason is due to a mental block. The way that England have played their ODI cricket in the last 4 years has been to win games by bowling aggressively for wickets, or through steady accumulation and score setting from the likes of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.

Often, in the face of a chase in excess of 250, England appear beaten before the interval is over. It only seems to take a few early wickets, and any tiny scrap of confidence that may have existed, disappears. While Johnson was no doubt a handful to face on Sunday, England did not give themselves a chance to chase the total, and appeared abundantly uncertain in their footwork.

An Ashes hangover can never be understated when England face Johnson these days, but the spectre of a large run chase always looms large over any England side.

As the successes of India and Australia show, chases in excess of 250 are no longer considered a rarity. While conditions may play a part in India’s successful record when chasing large totals, England have had their fair share of chances to play on belting batting tracks, and with some of their wayward bowling performances, plenty of chances to hone their chasing technique.

When batting first, this current England side appear to be more at home with racking up scores in excess of 250. Ian Bell’s century at Hobart is testament to that. Although England’s failure to accelerate in the same game, where they scored just 59 in the final 10 overs whilst losing 6 wickets, shows they still lack the firepower in some cases.

This England side appears to be blessed with new energy and talent, and may not be tied down with the mental baggage of previous teams. But the early signs at Perth were not great. England will need to drastically buck their ideas up, if they’re serious about their intentions to go all the way at the World Cup later this month.

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