England's post-Ashes dip is down to tired minds and problems with the batting order, says Bob Willis.
Last Updated: 08/02/11 10:28am
England may have won the Test series against Australia convincingly but they are finding it hard work during the one-day part of the tour.
They are 4-1 down after five games and the batting is in turmoil. They keep stumbling along trying different opening batsman, and seem to have this deep-seated belief that their wicketkeeper must open the batting, a logic I don't agree with.
Since Marcus Trescothick left the international arena, the opening partnership has become a problem that won't go away. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that, as captain, Andrew Strauss has to be accommodated into the team.
Kevin Pietersen hasn't fired more than once or twice in 18 months now and his form must be alarming the England hierarchy. A lot of the batsmen have lost confidence and there needs to be a long, hard think about which order to put them in.
I was disappointed that after Ian Bell's century against the Prime Minister's XI he wasn't given an opportunity at the top of the innings.
That would have been my selection and solution and have Matt Prior down the order as a more destructive player. You have to score runs in the opening powerplay but the form Bell was in, he was well capable of doing that.
And with Prior coming lower down, he could be a belligerent presence in the later overs - something else this team has been lacking.
Eoin Morgan, while not hitting his best in this series, is England's most destructive batsman, but Prior is also capable of being an aggressor. He is naturally gifted and he should be more effective down the order.
In the fifth ODI at Brisbane, England went in with a very batsman-heavy side and I think that's what they will do in the sub-continent over the next couple of months. They don't have faith in their batsmen to score enough runs.
England also seem to be lacking a real presence at the moment, with big characters like Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and, most of all, Graeme Swann injured. With Pietersen not scoring runs, he hasn't got his customary cockerel strut going on either.
It's clear that you've got a lot of guys running on empty and the ODIs have, for some reason, been very spread out. I remember in the 1983 World Cup we played every alternate day.
I don't understand why you play one match on a Sunday and then you don't play again until Friday, meaning there's plenty of sitting about or endless sessions in the nets. After the mental rigours of the Ashes victory, coupled with the fact they haven't got their best side on the field at the moment, England look all washed out.
One bright spark from Sunday's series-losing defeat was the performance of Chris Woakes, who took 6-45, the best ODI figures by an England bowler on foreign soil. He has had a great start to his international career.
He won a game with the bat at Adelaide and he would have won the game with the ball at Brisbane, if it weren't for his batsmen. The World Cup would probably have been a tournament too early for him, but he looks to have a big future.
Ajmal Shahzad's hamstring injury should not rule him of England's World Cup plans, but even if it did, I'm not sure he would be a big loss. The selectors obviously think very highly of him but I think that confidence is slightly misplaced, as there are plenty of more experienced guys who can reverse swing the ball better than him.
And the sub-continent isn't necessarily conducive to his type of bowling anyway, where pace off the ball should be key. Australia have picked three quick men in Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait but often in Asia, the faster the ball is bowled, the faster it disappears to the boundary.
A lot of England's bowlers will be heading to the World Cup with fitness doubts. You would hope that wouldn't come into play, though, as over the first few weeks England's games are nicely spread out and so is the opposition; they'll play a minnow, then a strong side, a minnow, then a strong side, so they should have the opportunity to rest people if needed.
The World Cup is still a few weeks away and England need to ensure they have the minds on the sixth ODI in Sydney as they try to avoid further embarrassment in this series.
However, having been there myself at the end of a long tour, the body is often willing but the mind is in a different place. And with the side leaving for the sub-continent in seven or eight days' time, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't put in great performances in their final two games down under.