Friday, 19 December 2014

Where do we go from here?

Friday, 19 December 2014
Another ODI series has been and gone, and now England are left with just one more series to finally find their feet before the World Cup begins. I must say, the seven matches in Sri Lanka did go better than expected (honestly I wasn't entirely expecting them to keep it alive for six games, as bad as that may sound), but as ever there were times where it felt like one step forwards, two steps back.

Let's start with the good points, because despite the 5-2 series scoreline, they were there. England did put in some good performances: despite losing the first match, they put up a good fight and fell only 25 runs short; there were impressive run chases in the rain affected third and fifth games - the fifth also seeing what was probably their best bowling performance of the series. And batting wise, there were certainly a few players who put themselves forwards. Moeen Ali, although fading as the series went on, had some good performances in his new role as opener - his century in the first match being especially memorable and just so enjoyable to watch. He didn't perform with the bat so well in the later games, but his attacking attitude certainly impressed and he was also one of the team's most economical with the ball in hand. James Taylor was finally given a chance in the side and instantly showed why with innings of 90 and 68 in his first two matches (and suddenly the talk changed from him being too short to play international cricket to 'why are short batsmen so successful?'). Joe Root cemented his position further, finishing as England's leading scorer and proving an important cog in the middle order. I also thought Bopara did a decent job, though once again he found himself out of the side by the last match - forever seen as a useful player, never quite finding the luck to make himself essential.

But even so, the problems are still there in the batting. Morgan's form continues to be a concern, though interestingly 62 of his 90 runs across the seven match series came in his one innings as captain. Cook's woes with the bat continued, Bell disappeared from the side, Hales couldn't make an impact in his very limited chances. The collapses in the middle overs against spin continued. And though there were some good run chases, there were also totals of 202 and 215 in response to targets of around 300 to go with a first innings score of 185 in the second match of the series. As ever, when they fired, they looked very good - but you could never knew when they would fire or when they would crumble away.

Bowling wise, there were probably more downs than ups. Woakes and Jordan were probably the picks of the bunch; Stokes went backwards with 8 overs disappearing for 85 runs; Gurney wasn't quite the left-armer England are desperate to find;  Finn wasn't at his worst, but still wasn't at his best. Tredwell's place can be doubted now too - though he has been pretty solid whenever he's played, he's less likely to be needed with Ali (and a few overs from Root) in the team and there being less need for spin in Australia. Wides were a problem throughout, simply gifting too many free runs to Sri Lanka. And it was at the death when they often really struggled - even when they got themselves in a good position, those last 5/10/15 overs could often see that final score get away from them. Hopefully with Broad and Anderson back, with their added experience and nous, this will improve. Or maybe it is just a reflection of the game as it is - teams are geared towards a final assault at this point in the innings, encouraged with a powerplay to use as a platform. But you'd still think short and wide isn't the best way to bowl at that stage. It was just frustrating to see decent positions let slip too often.

As I've been writing, Cook has been replaced by Morgan as captain. It's a good move - Cook can focus on the longer format and (hopefully) get back to his best in what will be a massive 18 months or so for England in test matches. And hopefully Morgan can get back to his best too - maybe the added responsibility can be a spark for him as it has hinted to be. But the confusion is still clear to see. With just a series to go, England are still trying to find their best side, have a squad filled with many still trying to prove their worth at this level and lacking in experience. There may be the odd signs of progress, but there is still a long way to go and it feels like the World Cup is just coming too soon. England are still trying to find their winning formula.

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