England have assembled one of the best batting units the ODI game has ever seen and they have left everyone else scratching their heads. The transformation has been as remarkable as it has been sudden, yet many aren’t happy.
In the lead up to the 2015 World Cup England went to Sri Lanka with Alastair Cook as captain and Peter Moores as head coach. Cook didn’t see out that Sri Lanka series, his form having dipped to the point of him having to be forcibly removed from the team. It wasn’t a decision popular with the man, as he lamented it during a brief stint commentating on the darts, of all things, later that winter.
Moores continued in his role and his idea of revolution was to bring Gary Ballance into the side to bat at three on the eve of the tournament.
And would you know it, it was a total disaster. To highlight just how far behind the scene England were in 2015, at the halfway point of their group game against Sri Lanka in Wellington, Joe Root left the field, giving a little fist pump as he went, since England had made it to the magic mark of 300. They finished on 309/6, Root himself unbeaten on 121.
England lost by nine wickets, Thirimanne and Sangakkara hitting centuries of their own as Sri Lanka swatted England aside with humiliating ease.
Moores was removed, Eoin Morgan was entrusted and empowered by the ECB and Paul Farbrace, soon to be joined by Trevor Bayliss, was put in as coach.
The change was immediate and England haven’t looked back. It didn’t require an overhaul in personnel, either. Of the side that was hammered by Sri Lanka in Wellington, Moeen Ali, Root, Morgan, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes remain integral parts. Only Woakes missed the record breaking 481 against Australia at Trent Bridge, owing to injury.
Even players like Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett had been in and around the England side before the 2015 World Cup. There was no plucking of players from obscurity. The tools were already there. Perhaps most tellingly, those same players had seen the abject failure at close quarters.
The shift in leadership, from the pedestrian Cook and the conservative Moores, to the relaxed and focussed thinking of Bayliss, Farbrace and Morgan has brought around such a fundamental shift in England’s ODI cricket that it’s now the rest of the world scratching their heads and hoping.
No more do England leave the field having posted 300 and looking delighted. The bar has been raised to 400. This is the most enthralling, entertaining and destructive batting unit in world cricket.
Yet not everyone is enthralled. The players have big bats. The pitches are too flat. The balls don’t swing. The opposition are rubbish. There is always a caveat to English success.
Yes, they lost the Champions Trophy semi-final to an inspired Pakistan last summer, but such are the ways of knock out sport. Does that devalue what they’re achieving everywhere else?
The knives are already being sharpened in preparation for next summer, when England host the World Cup. Many are keeping everything crossed and hoping that England fail. And I’m not just talking about the rest of the world, but actual England ‘fans’ as well. English cricket ‘supporters’ are preparing to delight in a possible England failure. It’s astonishing.
The greatest trick that this England side has performed is to make it look so, so easy. It’s so easy that anyone could do it, according to the plethora of detractors. So why isn’t everyone doing it?
Those flat pitches, big bats, short boundaries and non-swinging balls are the same for everyone.
You can either revel in what’s happening and enjoy it, for it’s not very often that England are leading the world, especially in one day cricket, or you can run for cover under your caveats and perhaps add a few more below the line here that I’ve missed. If you’re in the camp of the former, then what a great time to be watching the sport. If you’re in the latter camp, maybe this white ball cricket just isn’t for you.
By Miles Reucroft