#UAE15: Fear of failure the reason for England’s World Cup exit

As I’ve been watching English counties preparing for the 2015 domestic season in Abu Dhabi there has been much discussion about England’s failure in the ICC Cricket World Cup…

Various theories have been expressed – wrong selection, bad management, too much cricket, etc and infinitum.

But to me, seeing these sides practicing and playing with freedom in the United Arab Emirates the reason for England’s ignominious exit is simple.

While those in the England setup may say the right things – we are here to win, we fear no one – the English team plays with a fear of failure, they are not focussed on success and that has led to confused thinking.

No pressure, just hope, passion and energy in Abu Dhabi.

The sports media has a lot to answer for. In these modern days of 24/7 coverage where the smallest stories are repeated to fill the schedule players are unable to sneeze without their team catching a cold.

No one can say that England are not good enough and the men in charge are unfit for duty.

When Peter Moores left Lancashire to become his country’s head coach the Red Rose’s players were devastated. That’s not the reaction you’d expect to the departure of someone that is a decent stats man but a terrible man manager.

His assistant in the national setup, Paul Farbrace, is a man I know well. With Yorkshire he had an immediate impact as his enthusiasm and passion for the game was contagious. He left Yorkshire to assume control of Sri Lanka and led them through a short period of huge success. If being part of the England regime has squashed his capacity to play Mr Motivator there is something seriously wrong.

You take any of the England squad and they will dominate the majority of county matches they play in. An argument may be they do not play enough domestic cricket and are only able to experiment with their one-day games in net sessions and One-Day Internationals. But by and large they are the best players England has to offer.

So, the answer has to lie inside the heads of Team England. Most top class sport is played between the ears.

England have forgotten that cricket is supposed to be fun

A young man who is performing exceptionally for his county side where he has quickly become a big fish in a small pond. He gets the call to join up with the England squad for a series of ODIs, but finds he walks into a dressing room where failure is magnified and immediately begins to play inhibited cricket himself.

AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle and the world’s other match-winners are not hamstrung in the same way.

When AB walks out to bat for the Proteas his unique talent is celebrated. When he comes off the crowd are royally entertained. When he fails they wait and hope he succeeds the next time.

An England player given out when reverse sweeping, Dilscooping or trying to express their talents is immediately guilty of recklessness.

The temptation when wearing the three lions is to restrict natural instincts - play not to embarrass yourself and reduce the risk of being castigated by social media before you even have time to take your pads off.

There’s a saying – if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.

England have never added creativity to hard work. You could adapt that saying to - playing with fear, gets you what you feared.

By limiting our players and criticising the smallest mistake as if someone has committed murder the media, of which I am a part, is crucifying the team it covers.

The sad thing is, most cricket journalists find their jobs easier and most satisfying when their team is losing and surrounded by controversy. Writing the good news pieces is not so much fun.

The thinking in the England camp was scrambled from the start. After making a big thing of months of Test-free one-day preparation, which should have clarified team selection, the management changed the team for the very first World Cup game.

An AB de Villiers would be AB Villified in English cricket before he’d established his own game

Gary Ballance is being criticised for being one dimensional. Rubbish! He’s the batsman that England should be building their one-day side around.

He batted at 3 for England whereas for Yorkshire he plays the David Miller role at 5 or 6. He is expert at reading the game, knocking it around to drag his team back into a match, or battering attacks and boosting the score with boundaries.

It makes me wonder of anyone selecting the English team has ever seen him play!

I have no answer to how this English trait of knocking our own talent can be eradicated and it doesn’t just apply to cricket.

The English media were dismissing England’s chances in the last football World Cup before a ball had been kicked. Rather than concentrate on a players skill we knock them for having too much money and a model girlfriend they’ve attracted purely by kicking a bag of wind around.

In Abu Dhabi at the moment I am the only journalist and pre-season trips are a time for looking ahead with hope and excitement. Players here are wide-eyed and hungry for the summer.

They are here playing entertaining cricket and doing it with no fear or comeback.

They walk around the grounds and hotels relaxed and at ease.

It’s cricket at its purest, played with a smile on its face.

If only English cricket was always played in Abu Dhabi.

James Buttler

James has been working as a cricket journalist and broadcaster since 2006.
As the editor of Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author and a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications.
He's unsurprisingly a complete cricket badger!

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