Outside Edge: England deserve credit for remarkable One-Day turnaround
What with Britain being on the way out of Europe, and England’s footballers having already departed, not to mention wall-to-wall political domestic political turmoil, and endless reports of rain at Wimbledon, it would be easy to overlook the fact that our cricketers are currently in very fine form. So good, in fact, that Alastair Cook and Eoin Morgan ought to make a late bid to be the next Tory leadership team.
At The Oval on Wednesday, England secured the current one-day series with a clinical demolition of a Sri Lanka side which, though in a period of transition, still boasts four players with more than a hundred ODI caps each. England, remember, only have Morgan with a comparable level of experience – Jos Buttler and Joe Root were the only other two members of Wednesday’s XI with more than 50 appearances at this level.
When it comes to Test matches, England have been up there with the best for a decade and more – most of the time. But mastering the 50-over format has consistently remained beyond them, with World Cup after World Cup ending in either disappointment or downright disaster. The last tournament, in New Zealand and Australia last year, was about the worst of the lot. To have achieved what they have done since then – three victories in five bilateral series, with the other two (against South Africa and Australia) going to the final, deciding match – is genuinely impressive with that backdrop in mind.
Moreover, the core of the team which lost to Bangladesh so badly in the World Cup has been retained: Morgan, Root, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Alex Hales and Buttler are all still key members of the squad. James Taylor would still be involved too were it not for his retirement. Only Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are unlikely to play ODI cricket again.
The change then has been one of mind-set over personnel. Yes, Jason Roy has been a revelation this summer, and Adil Rashid is finally proving himself England’s number one limited-overs spinner. But there is a freedom in the side’s modus operandi which is not only refreshing but also seems to be working. And fundamentally, that shift has been based on a recognition that English players are sufficiently talented to compete with overseas stars at their own game.
No longer do we see England playing to their perceived strengths: building patient innings only to find themselves short of runs; keeping things tight in the field mid-innings only to concede a hundred runs in the last eight or nine overs. Instead, they look like a team that has finally got to grips with the requirements of cricket’s mid-length format.
If a new approach is likely to bring success, it will also bring in the punters. In recent years, one-day international cricket has been the poor relation of Tests in this country, but it needn’t necessarily be so. True, the ECB still has work to do in terms of better scheduling of ODI matches, particular when they are shunted into the dog days of September. But if fans are confident of seeing an exciting brand of cricket, they will respond in kind. And who knows, in the joyous atmosphere of an ODI victory, under the blazing lights of the Oval or Trent Bridge or Headingley, England’s cricketers might even bring unity to our fractured nation.
James Taylor, whose retirement through illness came as such a shock in April, made his debut on BBC Radio’s Test Match Special last weekend, commentating during the washed-out ODI at Bristol. His assured and thoughtful performance augured well for a potential new career in the commentary box, but it also showed why some thought he would turn out to be England’s next captain.
Indeed, for a brief moment he was captain of his country, taking the reins for a washed out one-dayer against Ireland last year. He also took over against Australia last September when Morgan was injured mid-match.
As things stand, successors to Cook and Morgan may not need to be found any time soon. But whether Root will want to carry the burden of captaincy on top of being England’s best batsman remains to be seen. With Taylor’s playing ambitions cruelly curtailed, however, it is hard to see any other contenders.