Saturday, 31 January 2015

Signs of Promise

Saturday, 31 January 2015
The tri-series is drawing to a close, even if I'm still yet to write about it. I'll blame the classic Australian timezone problem, even if that doesn't bode well for me following the World Cup either. I'll do my best. As ever, the series has been a mixed bag for England - two wins against India, two losses against the hosts Australia - but they are now looking as prepared as they'll ever be for this World Cup. So here's a look at how things have been going for England in the new year.

For starters, they've been doing much better with the ball in their hands. It helps to have players such as Anderson and Broad back in the team (though Broad has struggled to find his form so far, only picking up wickets in England's fourth match of the series), and it has meant they've finally been able to settle on their best bowling attack. They've found a solid new ball pairing of Anderson and Woakes, Anderson of course always being an asset to the side, and Woakes being a player who seems to have the knack of picking up wickets in this format. Moeen Ali, whilst not scoring the runs he would have hoped for so far in this series, has given the team a better balance and really can be seen as a genuine all rounder - providing a wicket threat, more than just holding up an end with the ball. But it's been Finn that's been the most impressive. Almost a year to the day after being sent home from England's Ashes tour, having become 'unselectable' in the eyes of the staff, Finn picked up his first ODI five wicket haul and was the key man in bowling India out for just 153 (four wickets from Anderson on his return to the side doing their fair bit too). Finding pitches far better suited to him and the rest of the pace attack has certainly helped as well, and especially when playing against India rather than Australia - India being bowled out for totals of 153 and 200 whilst Australia comfortably chased their targets of 235 and 304. But there are certainly positive signs here for England, and a fully firing Finn bodes well further into the future, too.

Batting wise, the series has seen its ups and downs for England. The first match saw them bowled out for 234 by Australia, and even then they were rescued by a timely return to form with the bat for Morgan. After a disastrous start, with England 2 wickets down after 3 balls, Morgan scored 121, the next highest score being 28 from Buttler, forced to play an uncharacteristic innings. From then on things were better, with Ian Bell making scores of 88* and 141 after returning to the team at the top of the order; Taylor continuing to settle at number three with innings of 56* and 82; Root and Buttler both making fifties. The problem is that they're not all scoring runs at the same time, and whilst batsmen have made runs, it has been a bit all or nothing. Morgan's century accounted for 121 runs out of 123 for his three innings; Root's 69 out of 77 across three innings. And even if they made 300 in the second match against Australia, after being two wickets down with ten overs left, their total should really have been a lot better, enough for them to win the match. Bopara hasn't found the runs either, and as much as I have defended him in the past, if his poor run of form continues in the World Cup then there's only so long he can stay in the side. It's not all doom and gloom, but there is still room for improvement.

But even if the results have been mixed, from what I've seen the change of captain has worked. I just think Morgan's better suited to captaining this format than Cook ever was, and even if the timing of the change wasn't ideal, it's still better late than never. It wasn't all positive of course, the second match against Australia being the obvious moment where advantages were let slip, but in general he does seem more proactive in the field - and it can't hurt that there's less media scrutiny over the captain's every move now, blackmail plots notwithstanding.

The last match saw England and India in what was effectively a semi-final, and England came through. After previous performances, they would have been favourites to win the match anyway, but this was England and they never like to make things simple. A good bowling show saw India all out for 200, and England duly fall to 66/5 in response. It's the kind of situation that England have got themselves into all too often in the past, and a situation where they can easily crumble. But a partnership shared by Taylor and Buttler saw them through, despite a slight stumble at the very end. Though too much shouldn't be read into the whole thing, it was good to see two younger members of the team pull England through in a situation they will likely face at some point during the World Cup. A promising moment, at least, even if I'd much rather they hadn't been in a situation like that in the first place. Now England find themselves with a final to play.

So what have we learnt so far in this series? Probably not all that much - it was to be expected that England would perform better on Australian surfaces as opposed to those they played on in Sri Lanka; and it still looks like they always have potential to pull of a very good display or implode on any given day. But with a stronger and settled bowling attack, the potential for a good win must be slightly higher than it was before. I'm going to rate myself as cautiously optimistic now ahead of the World Cup. Whilst I still don't think they win it, they have the chance of causing the odd upset along the way, and who knows how well they might do if they really find their feet. Or they could just as easily crash out in the first round. It's worth a watch, at least.

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