What a difference a change in personnel makes; the old, stuck-in-the-mud practitioners replaced by a swathe of young guns with a new attitude. Not for them the steady accumulation of old. England have finally stepped into the 21st Century with their one day cricket and have found nothing to fear. It appears that they had been previously struck with phobophobia, the fear of fear itself.
England’s preparation for the World Cup was marred by the wretched perseverance with Alastair Cook as captain and opener. Whilst he still has a lot to offer the Test side, as a batsman if not as a leader, his final games in Sri Lanka were akin to watching a monastic ritual of self-depravation and self-induced suffering. The leadership were unwilling to stop it and Cook himself soldiered blindly and unsuccessfully on, believing himself to be on a virtuous path.
He was removed, or rather he was put out of his misery, in the end. Yet Peter Moores remained as coach, his muddled thinking seeing the reintroduction of Gary Ballance to the side at three on the eve of the World Cup, a man comfortable batting at five for Yorkshire. It was a disaster. Moeen Ali had to keep the run rate up as Ian Bell accumulated at the other end, to be followed in by a woefully out of form Ballance. It meant that England never really got going.
Now they have Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Joe Root at the top of the order. They now attack from the off. It is this platform that led to England notching in excess of 300 three times in a row for the first time in their history. They have now made it four times. They have chased down their record run chase of 350 and passed 400 for the first time. The revolution has been instant.
Whilst it has been hugely entertaining, the one sour note is that everyone could see that this was what was needed 12 months ago. The Test and ODI arenas can scarcely have been more far apart, yet England continued to select their Test players for ODIs. It was out-dated nonsense and led to a humiliating World Cup.
This recent resurgence has also emphatically justified Andrew Strauss’s decision to axe Moores on day one of his tenure as England’s director of cricket. Moores was out of his depth and operating in the wrong era. England have swiftly moved on without him. Kevin Pietersen has not been mentioned in the series against New Zealand, either. England really are moving on now, not just relabeling the status quo.
Roy, Hales, Sam Billings, Adil Rashid and David Willey represent a bold step by England. They have also complimented the gems that were already in situ: Root and Jos Buttler. Eoin Morgan, freed from the reign of Moores instantly looks like the world beater he once threatened to become. No longer hamstrung, his batting is befitting of a captain; he now looks like England’s leader. Ben Stokes, too, has been handed a permanent role at number six (Ashley Giles and Moores, between them, batted him everywhere from three to eight) and is flourishing. Rashid, too, has finally been trusted with a fixed role at eight. Steven Finn looked reinvigorated with the ball and Mark Wood has made an encouraging start to his England career.
The beauty really is in the simplicity. This England side suddenly looks free. It doesn’t look brow beaten and anxious. It is more laissez-faire; it realises that you have to throw caution to the wind.
Not everything, of course, has been perfect. The fielding is an area of concern, with key catches having been put down. Roy will likely be replaced with Ali as Hales’s opening partner and Sam Billings currently looks as though he has been promoted with undue haste. James Taylor looks a little hard done by. Willey, too, needs to make improvements if he is to be the answer to England’s left-arm question.
But who cares? England are entertaining to watch. They are also winning games as well as losing them. They attack from the off and people are talking about them.
The speed of the turnaround is what really stands out. England had got it so very, very wrong for so long. The answer was right under their nose. Better late than never, I guess. Surely now, Cook doesn’t still think he’s the best man to lead England’s ODI side. Surely now, the environment is in place for England’s players to prosper on the limited overs international stage.
By Miles Reucroft