Having completed a 4-0 series whitewash against Sri Lanka last week, England have reached the end of their busiest year ever, and the time seems to have come to reflect on the preceding 12 months. The latest press release from the ECB tells us that during 2016, England have played 26 matches across all formats of the game, and won 21 of them – giving them a win percentage of 81%.
Now of course that is pretty impressive. (For the record, in 2015 their win percentage was 50% – 6 games won, 6 games lost across all formats.) But it’s also pretty obvious that a team’s win percentage doesn’t tell the whole story of their year.
For England, given that nearly half of their victories (10 games in total – about 48%) have come against teams we would have expected them to easily beat anyway (Sri Lanka and Pakistan), it’s perhaps more pertinent to look at the lost games – and particularly at the manner in which they were lost.
Of the 5 games in which England were defeated in 2016, 3 of them were lost when chasing. More significantly, all 3 of these losses were matches which, at the half-way stage in their chase, England looked on course to win easily:
1. The WWT20 semi-final. England chasing 132, and at the 10-over mark were 67-1, coasting along. They subsequently collapsed to finish on 127-7, missing out on a spot in the final by 5 runs.
2. The second ODI in the Caribbean at the Trelawny Stadium. England were chasing 148, were 56-3 after 24 overs – and collapsed to 110 all out.
3. The fourth ODI at Sabina Park. Target 224. England reached 95 before losing their first wicket. They were all out for 181.
I’ll mention one other match here which England did ultimately win: the final ODI in Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, it’s pertinent that at one point England were 58-6 in this game, following a rather embarrassing middle-order collapse. They ended up reliant on Nat Sciver and Dani Hazell to bat out of their skins in order to take them to respectable total. Against almost any other team in world cricket, being 58-6 at any point would have been fatal.
When Mark Robinson sacked his best batsman, back in May, his justification was that the rest of the team were “hiding behind” Charlotte Edwards. The argument seemed to go as follows: when Edwards gets out, the rest of the team no longer believe that they have the capacity to win the game. That’s when the collapse happens. Get rid of her, and other players will step up; get rid of her, and the problem disappears.
I never quite bought this argument. And the evidence above seems to suggest that I was right. Old weaknesses die hard, and the tendency for England to collapse in a heap doesn’t seem to have vanished quite yet.
I don’t want to put a downer on what has been a pretty positive 6 months for England – with the rise of Alex Hartley; the exciting debut of Sophie Ecclestone; the return of Fran Wilson from the wilderness; and a new captain in Heather Knight who seems to be relishing the responsibility. But ignoring a problem, pretending it no longer exists, isn’t going to make it go away. It certainly isn’t going to win you a World Cup.
The last time the Women’s World Cup was played in England, back in 1993, England had a coach – Ruth Prideaux – who knew that so much of cricket is mental. She had her players chanting “we will win”, at a time when sports psychology wasn’t even a thing. It paid off. England beat Australia, got to the final, and won it. Afterwards, most of the players recognised that believing they could do it was one of the most crucial factors in that victory.
Do England have the players at their disposal who can win a World Cup? Yes, I’d say they do. But whether they’ve got it in them mentally is another question entirely. So many of their losses in recent years haven’t been to do with talent, but with not being able to withstand the mental pressure that comes when you know you should be able to make the runs, but you just aren’t quite sure if you can do it. That’s when the collapse happens.
Unfortunately for England fans, you won’t get much greater psychological pressure over the course of a career than playing in a home World Cup. It’s going to be a stern test. If I was Mark Robinson, I know what I’d be focusing on this winter – and let’s just say it wouldn’t be cardio training.