Graham Thorpe, Adam Hollioake and Matthew Fleming (from left) celebrate England's win

Hollioake-era England: not half-bad

© Getty Images

Editorial

England shining

They've never been quite as poor at one-day cricket as we've been given to think. These days, in fact, they're positively electric

Osman Samiuddin

I liked the England side that lost the 1992 World Cup final. They were, to my eyes, the best side in the tournament and undeserving runners-up. And I'll say it: Pakistan were lucky to reach the final and lucky to win it as well. Quiet at the back - remind yourselves of Gooch dropping Imran, Bucknor reprieving Miandad, Beefy getting a rough one, and Aaqib taking a blinder.

To New Zealand went gushing kudos for their innovations, but England were not far behind. They didn't look like other ODI sides of the time. They looked like the future, brimful of players who could do everything. Most games, their bowling attack consisted of five allrounders and a thing called Phil Tufnell. Some games Richard Illingworth played instead of him; both were, by designation, left-arm orthodox, but in spirit, we know who wasn't.

Gooch as captain personified the well-drilled nature of the side but these were no bots. They had flair in Chris Lewis, who truly looked a player of the future - against Sri Lanka, he hit 20 off six balls and then took 4 for 30. T20 does not know what it missed.

They had a flexible middle order, centred around the bullish batting of Robin Smith and Graeme Hick, cold-blooded finishers in Allan Lamb and Neil Fairbrother, and a punchy wicketkeeper-batsman in Alec Stewart. In 1992, England were far ahead of the game and it seemed obvious why: they had invented the format. They confirmed it later that summer by thumping - and I mean really thumping - Pakistan in the ODI series in England.

That future never came to be, of course, for reasons that are plentiful and secret to no one. But it has not all been a misery (there are four Full Members, after all, who on win-loss ratios since that World Cup final, are worse than England). A number of times along the way, England awoke to a new dawn, to moments that promised seismic change.

In Mal Loye sweeping Brett Lee for six, perhaps the more optimistic even saw the kind of chutzpah that could break England free and move them forward

In 1997, for example, when the Hollioake brothers first swept Australia aside in the Texaco Trophy and then the older, Adam, engineered an unthinkable tournament win in Sharjah. Their run to the final of the 2004 Champions Trophy dovetailed with a Michael Vaughan-inspired turnaround in Tests, and everything was looking rosy. They were an absolute mess on the 2006-07 Ashes tour to Australia, but who can forget the crazy postscript, when they won the CB Series against strong ODI sides like Australia and New Zealand? In Mal Loye sweeping Brett Lee for six, perhaps the more optimistic even saw the kind of chutzpah that could break England free and move them forward.

It was, ultimately, Alastair Cook who took England to the top of the ODI rankings in 2012, on the back of ten successive wins over Pakistan, West Indies and Australia. They even made the 2013 Champions Trophy final with what was, basically, their Test side.

My favourite false dawn was the Hollioake era simply because it was such an unEnglish move: split the captaincy, give it to an Australian who never suited Test cricket and said things like: "The main thing was to win, not how", and, about building trust in teams: "If we have to sit around in pink underwear for half an hour beforehand, we will." Mostly I liked his side because they swindled their way to wins; they weren't, on paper, good enough to beat the sides they did. But (very) briefly, under Hollioake, England seemed to understand that winning is as much the ability to pull off a good con as anything else.

So - and stop me if you think you've heard this one before - we are at another dawn, except this time it looks like it may actually make it through to a brand new day. Sure, the words of Andrew Strauss, England's director of cricket, who said they need to give more importance to white-ball cricket, sound not only like ones we have heard before but suspiciously like the "never again" you might utter while nursing a hangover.

But England's deeds since he uttered those words give them their weight, a clear sense that a distinct line has been drawn between what went before and what will go now. Forget how many games they have won or lost. England have not only not looked like an anachronism, they have made for a bracing spectacle, especially their batting.

Buttler: electrifying and freakish

Buttler: electrifying and freakish © Getty Images

At the forefront has been Jos Buttler, who explains to Daniel Brigham why it is no longer considered derogatory to be called a white-ball cricketer in England. Buttler is of this new breed of batting freaks, capable by simple dint of not caring about dismissal, of pulling off feats of extreme daredevilry. In November last year in Dubai, on his way to a 46-ball hundred against Pakistan, he played a reverse something off Anwar Ali, quick hands and no foot movement allowing him to pick up a length ball off leg stump and send it over point. It was astonishing in its casualness but also stood as an emblem of the modernisation of England.

Buttler lost his Test place around that time, and though he remains in the frame and says he still wants to play Test cricket, he has also learnt "not to get caught up in what I want to do, and enjoy the challenges I have ahead. If I could one day maybe win back that Test place, that would be great. But I've got lots of things to concentrate on at the minute and enjoy as well."

That was a shift from the days before his Test debut in 2014, when he had said, "Test cricket has been my ultimate goal for the whole of my career." It is a subtle shift, but maybe, finally for England, a decisive one.

There is much else to ponder this month, not least some fine reportage from Saba Imtiaz as she heads to Rabwah, home to Pakistan's Ahmaddiya community. Ostracised by the state and targeted by extremists, Rabwah holds a beautiful cricket ground, and the dreams of many a young cricketer to play for a country that would prefer they didn't exist.

To lighten the load, look out for a rollicking Jury's Out in which we asked our jurors to recall the best quote they've come across.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National and the author of The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket

 

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