Monday, 4 July 2016

The one-day revolution

Monday, 4 July 2016
About fifteen months ago, England were being knocked out of the ODI World Cup. Another international tournament had come around, and once again England were left chasing the big boys, playing in slow motion as the game had whizzed on ahead of them. The cricket was bland and unexciting, even though the players had the talent to be anything but. Talk of the numbers and par scores seemed to take precedence over the the team's own freedom to attack and express themselves.

Watching England now still almost feels difficult to believe, like if you pinch yourself you might wake up from the dream. There has never been a huge change in personnel - though of course some new faces came in - but the change in attitude has been dramatic. Getting to 300 with the bat no longer feels like a rarity, more like a minimum. England made 324 in the last match and it still felt like they hadn't fully hit their stride. Gone are that team that looked so far behind the times at the 2015 World Cup, with no freedom, joy, or attack. That team lives in the past. The new England are here to stay.

And sure, it's not all been plain sailing. Series losses to Australia in South Africa show that it's still a learning curve, the latter especially an example when they let the series slip from their grasp after taking a 2-0 lead. The first ODI of this series too, showed that the threat of the traditional English batting collapse hasn't disappeared - though a brilliant game of cricket with a thrilling finale, it was still a match where England snatched a tie from the jaws of defeat of a match they should have won. At times it can be that there's just that extra maturity lacking - knowing when to hold back a little and not be gung-ho all the time, or with what approach to take when bowling. But maturity comes with experience, and experience comes with time, and a young team should have plenty of time on its side.

Perhaps Sri Lanka weren't the strongest side, and they have certainly endured a torrid tour. Injuries haven't helped them, and neither has a lack of match practice in English conditions. It was always going to be difficult post-Sangakkara and post-Jayawardene, but there are still shoots of hope. Mathews and Chandimal shared several partnerships worth over fifty, scoring three and four fifties apiece. Kusal Mendis also looked very promising early on in his international career. But the wickets would often come at the wrong times, and just at the moment when Sri Lanka wanted to be gearing up for the back end of the innings, they had to play themselves in again and England could apply the pressure.

After the first match, England just made batting look easy. In the second game, Sri Lanka saw their total of 254 chased down in only 34 overs, Roy and Hales both making centuries without losing their wickets. After a washout, game four brought another century for Jason Roy - 162 runs, just five short of England's record held by Robin Smith. Roy was brilliant, and if he didn't quite find his fluency during his first year in the England team, he's certainly found it now. Smith's record might not be lasting for very much longer. There were fifties too for Root, his typical way of getting runs before anyone notices; Buttler - a 93 that held the innings together in the first match, then a thrilling 70 in the last; and one for Woakes, the key man in the opening tie with 95* before Plunkett's six off the last ball stole the headlines. James Vince also chipped in with a fifty in the final match after coming in for Hales, a first international fifty that will surely give a confidence boost after a difficult test series.

England were on top with the ball, too. Bowling in ODIs is never an easy - or enviable - task, but England did enough to impress. Plunkett and Willey topped the wicket taking charts with ten each, whilst Rashid and Woakes had economies under five for the whole series. England might not know their best bowling attack, and in any case, rotation will always be a factor with others such as Stokes, Finn, Wood, and Topley absent in this series. Here though they struck a good balance - the left arm swing of Willey, the aggression of Plunkett, the pace and consistency of Woakes, and the legspin of Rashid.

Certainly, this England team is more exciting than ever before. And maybe even better than ever before as well, or at least the best England ODI team there's been in recent years. They've made it fun to watch their one day cricket again, something they didn't particularly do before - instead it was more often with a resigned sigh. It was hard to get excited about England's chances when they never valued the game in the way of other countries, but since Strauss took the job at the top every format is a priority, and there has been a focus on one day cricket that was never there before. And it's paying off. England's ODI revolution is going strong. 

1 comment:

  1. A well-balanced account, Rowena, and a good summary of what we all feel. Like you, at the end of the innings at Cardiff I was thinking that England had fallen short, but then realised that they'd scored 324, which would have been regarded as an outstanding total (until it was knocked off) up until last year.

    I think it's absolutely certain that Smith's record will go before very long - anyone from Roy, Hales, Root or Buttler could do it (of course, Roy would have strolled past it at The Oval if he'd known about it and had felt like breaking it) - and the team is nowhere near fulfilling its potential. Stokes has under-performed in ODI cricket thus far, and Jos is a microcosm of the side in that I still don't think he quite realizes how good he could be. He's getting there, though, and that's just one of the elements which is going to make the next few years very interesting indeed.


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