Eng­land ready to test just how far rev­o­lu­tion’s come

Sunday News - - CRICKET - STEVE JAMES

ON to the se­ri­ous stuff then and five one-day in­ter­na­tion­als be­gin­ning in Mel­bourne to­day.

What? One-day in­ter­na­tional cricket is not more im­por­tant than the test-match ver­sion these days? And Eng­land have not gone to Aus­tralia pri­mar­ily to face the world cham­pi­ons and ad­vance their sta­tus as one of the favourites for the 2019 World Cup?

OK, the tongue may be firmly in cheek here, and it is Twenty20 cricket that we test lovers re­ally should be wor­ried about, but that should not hide any ker­nels of truth, with this part of the win­ter al­ways rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land’s like­li­est prospect of suc­cess.

And that home World Cup next year is ex­tremely im­por­tant be­cause it was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in Trevor Bayliss’s ap­point­ment as head coach, and Eng­land are now a for­mi­da­ble one-day side. But it is not a case of ODI cricket be­ing pri­ori­tised above the longer form, as sug­gested in some Ashes post mortems.

It is just that Eng­land are now giv­ing it some at­ten­tion. Pre­vi­ously it was gen­er­ally an af­ter­thought. An in­con­ve­nience, even.

Now it is a se­ri­ous busi­ness, on the field that is, not just in terms of the cash tills ring­ing with ticket sales. Some thought and prepa­ra­tion goes into it de­spite what the naysay­ers say. That can only be a good thing, and it shows. And Eng­land will hope that they can show that a lit­tle more in the com­ing weeks.

For, what­ever you say about Bayliss, and ev­ery­one ap­pears to have had their say in re­cent days about the Australian who an­nounced that he is to leave his post in Septem­ber, 2019, you can­not deny that Eng­land’s one-day cricket has been trans­formed since the de­ba­cle at the World Cup in Aus­tralia and New Zealand in 2015.

That Eng­land are still only fourth in the rank­ings, with Aus­tralia third, and that they did not win the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy at home last sum­mer – fail­ing mis­er­ably to adapt to a used pitch in the semi­fi­nal in Cardiff – is dis­ap­point­ing, but they have won 34 of their 52 ODIs un­der Bayliss. Of the 12 se­ries played, they have lost only three. It is a fine record.

The at­tack­ing style of play has made Eng­land not only won­der­fully mod­ern and ef­fec­tive, but em­i­nently watch­able too. They are sim­ply the game’s great en­ter­tain­ers in this for­mat. Point­ing to how many times they pass 300 has be­come some­thing of a cliche, but it is still worth re­it­er­at­ing how far they are ahead of the rest in this re­spect.

In those 52 games they have scored 300 or more 24 times. That is a re­mark­able fig­ure. Aus­tralia in the same time frame since the pre­vi­ous World Cup, and two fewer matches, have done so 12 times. South Africa, who are top of the rank­ings, have man­aged it 15 times in 47 games. Even In­dia, in sec­ond place and of­ten play­ing on flat pitches at home, have reached it 15 times from 53 at­tempts.

Eng­land’s re­cent form is good. In 2017, they won 15 of their 20 ODIs, with one no re­sult, smash­ing West Indies 4-0 in their most re­cent se­ries, while Aus­tralia won only five of their 15. Prob­a­bly only four of Eng­land’s start­ing line-up (Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes) will be car­ry­ing Ashes wounds, while Eoin Mor­gan’s cap­taincy will freshen Root’s bat­ting and the team’s meth­ods.

Also, the pre­vi­ous time the teams met in an ODI, at Edg­bas­ton in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy, Eng­land won com­fort­ably.

This se­ries is surely only go­ing one way, isn’t it?

Well, there is al­ways a caveat and, un­for­tu­nately, this one comes with the bright­est of red lights in its warn­ing.

And it is not just be­cause that vic­tory in Birm­ing­ham last sum­mer was mainly down to an un­beaten cen­tury from a flame­haired chap called Ben Stokes, who, as you might have gath­ered, has not been avail­able to Eng­land yet this win­ter.

More to the point, Eng­land have not played in Aus­tralia since the be­gin­ning of the rev­o­lu­tion. Even when they played Aus­tralia at home in 2015 un­der Bayliss they lost the se­ries 3-2.

Of Eng­land’s past 12 ODIs in Aus­tralia, they have won only one. That was in 2014 in Perth. Of the past 16 ODIs be­tween the two any­where, Eng­land have only won four.

Af­ter the one-day­ers there is a tri­an­gu­lar T20 se­ries with New Zealand, with two fix­tures against each side be­fore a fi­nal in Auck­land. Then Eng­land play five ODIs in New Zealand be­fore the twom­atch test se­ries in March. – THE TIMES, LON­DON

Eng­land’s Jonny Bairstow will carry some Ashes wounds into the ODI se­ries against Aus­tralia.

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