Credit must be given to a visionary board.
In the late August of 1999, Nasser Hussain, the newly appointed England captain, was booed by The Oval crowd when he took his place in the balcony with its ash brown bricks in the background. The grim truth of the English cricket hitting rock bottom gritted through his teeth. New Zealand had beaten England 2-1 in the Test series, which was followed by disastrous World cup campaign – England bowing out in the preliminary round, failing to proceed to the Super Six. Cornhill Insurance—the official sponsors of test cricket in England—threatened that they would not renew the contract from the next summer. This surely was the darkest hour of the English cricket.
Years later, Duncan Fletcher who took over as the coach of England, believed that England’s side of the 90s should have been the world champions. One really could hardy argue with that. They did boast of some terrific players, but somehow always failed to live up to the expectations.
Things started to turn around from 2000. Nasser Hussain may not have been the most talented batsman of his generation, but he was a good captain. A bloody good captain! Someone who took a lot of pride in representing England and carried that killer instinct which deserted the English players of the 90s. Thorpe, Gough, Atherton, Malcolm, Fraser could have walked into any test XI, yet they did not help England climb any success ladders back then. It’s tough to make sense of it or theorize it. Perhaps it was the selectors who never gave players like Hick a long run without an axe hanging around their neck.
The introduction of central contracts was the first step which, to a large extent, helped England come out of that decrepitude. England’s management finally rose to the call of giving international Test cricket precedence over county cricket. After lot of pestering, the counties allowed international players to be exempted from playing, protecting them from being wearied out. The results were immediate, culminating in the famous 2005 Ashes victory.
If the red ball cricket had found its mojo, the white ball cricket was still lying in dark dungeons. The officials running cricket in England were quite indifferent to the shorter formats of the game. It’s quite amazing that till late 90s, England played just three ODI matches throughout their summer – an archaic trophy, named after the American oil company Texaco. They may have won a series here or there, but England largely remained a very mediocre ODI and T20 side. Things reached to abysmal level in 2015 ODI World Cup held in Australia, where they lost to Bangladesh and were thrown out of the tournament. Quite like in 1999, the press had their daggers drawn on England’s continuous poor performance. It needed a shakeup.
Again, the turnaround was remarkable. England won the 2019 World Cup. And now the Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 at the MCG, becoming the only nation to own both ODI and T20 world cup trophies at the same time. Again, the wheels of fortune changed when the officials running the game realized that change was necessary. Andrew Strauss was made the Director of England Cricket Board after the shameful exit from the 2015 World Cup. The decision proved to be wise and fruitful. In 2016, he introduced what was called as ‘white ball contract for white ball specialists’. In the contract, white ball specialists were paid a handsome amount on top of their county salaries. This helped on two counts: it encouraged players like Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales, David Malan, Sam Curran, and Chris Jordan to focus on white ball cricket only. And, secondly, it helped England nurture aggressive players who literally rewrote the coaching manuals. This was a massive step-up. I remember how Aussies mocked England’s copybook coaching style that emphasized on never hitting the ball in the air or playing across the line.
The change was s drastic that England now has two different teams and coaches for red and white ball formats. To play the modern brand of cricket you need specialists and England has very well realized that.
Indeed England is very lucky to have a strong firstclass structure in county cricket. This ensures that there is never a dearth of quality cricketers knocking the international doors.
It’s the waking up to the changing dynamics and the realities of today’s multi-format game because of which England has managed to do so well from the past few years in the white ball cricket. And the credit must be given to a visionary cricket board.
A cricket puritan, Faheem Gundroo is an ICT engineer, based in Dubai, with interest in travel, history and current affairs.