Thursday, 4 December 2014

Another ODI Rant

Thursday, 4 December 2014
The first three ODIs have been a mixed bag for England: a respectable performance in the first, where a middle order collapse saw a 25-run loss; a shocker in the second, mustering only 185 runs; overcoming another collapse to win in a rain-affected third game. There have been some very good individual performances along the way - Moeen Ali's innings as opener have been especially impressive - and the ingredients of a decent ODI team are definitely there to see. But once again, it feels like with every match a new set of questions can be raised about their competitiveness.

And it always seems to come back to Alastair Cook. I know I probably sound like a broken record, questioning his place in the side again and again and again, but I just don't see him as one of the best one day players in the country and so deserving of a place in the side. He is without a doubt a brilliant test player, probably one of the best England have ever produced - certainly in terms of the stats - and though I was calling for his head earlier in the year, his captaincy is coming along in that format. I would call myself a fan, but there's always a but. I don't think he has the right mentality for the modern ODI game, in batting or captaincy, and it's been highlighted by watching Moeen Ali's sparkling performances as his opening partner at the other end. I'd much rather see an opening pair of Ali and Hales, rather than Hales coming in at number three as he did in the most recent game. Leave Cook to the test side, let him focus on the longest format; without the pressure of leading the ODI side as well his form could well and truly come back and fully flourish there as it has before. The next match, with Cook banned for a slow over rate, will be an interesting one to see: Morgan will be leading the side, James Taylor could even get a chance in the team, and Ali and Hales will in all probability be the openers. It's a brilliant opportunity for both of them, but most of all Hales: if they can put on an impressive opening stand, it will create quite the headache for the selectors and the shouts for Cook to go will grow ever louder.

Form in general seems to be an issue. Morgan will be captain for the next match, but his innings so far this series have been very brief: 1, 17, 1. He is a proven performer and a match winner for England in the both the limited overs formats, but he really hasn't been at his best over the past year or two, and it is starting to be a big concern. When he's at his best, he can score runs all around the ground, hit the ball in places you don't expect - just be a very difficult man to set a field to. But at the moment with the bat he's not adding much to the team. Maybe the added responsibility of being captain for a game will give him the boost he needs - it certainly seemed to help during the Twenty20 against India at the end of the summer. And hopefully he will find those runs very soon, because with an on form Morgan England would already look much for threatening. Ben Stokes is another whose form has been especially frustrating. We've seen in domestic one day competitions how dangerous a player is, and hints of it internationally, but in this series his form has looked a long way off. He's been expensive with the ball and has so only bowled six overs across the two matches he's played, and being in and out of the side can't have helped either - dropped the second game, he returned for the third though how he would have had time to find form in between, I don't know. I wrote at the start of the series about how with Broad and Anderson both missing, there was a big opportunity for the fast bowlers to step up, but so far none have really put themselves far ahead. Wides have been a problem, and often the bowling simply hasn't been good enough. Woakes and Finn are probably slightly ahead but even so there is still a lot of room for improvement.

I know I'm repeating myself, constantly ranting about England's one day team, but it's only because I believe that they can be so much better, and that there is the basis for a good, effective team there. Moeen Ali has been a star at the top of the order, his century in the first game being one of the best ODI innings I can remember seeing by an England batsman. Bopara's come back into the side and done well, if not quite getting England over the line in that first match - though he wasn't helped by the players around him. Both also give England extra options with the ball. Root and Buttler have also done a good job, especially taking the team over the line in the third game. Even with my complaints about Cook, he too batted well in the last game. There is a promising young core of the side there, that should only get better with more maturity and experience. Generally it is a team that always has a chance of winning, it's just that they seem to have a greater chance of self-imploding. Hopefully it can turn the other way around.

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