Ultimately, it proved comfortable. For all the hope that Bangladesh may have gained from their strong batting performance at the halfway stage of the opening ICC Champions Trophy encounter, it was quashed by another clinical batting display from England. Once again, the hosts made a score of more than 300 seem entirely inadequate.
The batting currently looks as strong as ever. Aside from the concerning form of Jason Roy, who made his fifth single-figure score from his last six innings, England have most of their top six in good nick and at the right time. Alex Hales played sensibly before showing off his wide hitting range during his 95, Joe Root batted beautifully for his unbeaten 133 and captain Eoin Morgan’s 75 not out continued his fine form in ODI’s this year. There were plenty of positives to take in that department.
However, in order to win a major tournament like the Champions Trophy, all three facets of a side’s game need to fire and England will be far more concerned by events both before and after their ruthless show of batting. Firstly, the performance with the ball left a lot to be desired. Liam Plunkett aside, the pacemen lacked the variation in line, length and pace to cause problems for the opposition.
Admittedly, the wicket at the KIA Oval was flat and Tamim Iqbal batted like a man possessed. In doing so, the opener continued his fine record against England. It also has to be accepted that in this year’s tournament, there are going to be plenty of high totals being made due to the fast development of batting in the shorter format. England won’t be the last side to receive some punishment with the ball over the next three weeks.
It was disappointing, though, to see this England bowling line-up fail to build on the promising signs shown in the recent ODI series against South Africa. The decision to leave out Adil Rashid, one of England’s few genuine wicket-taking options, for Jake Ball was a puzzling one considering the part that Rashid has played in England’s ODI revolution over the past two years.
Ball, as a result, struggled hugely and wasn’t able to respond to the eventual aggression shown by Tamim. The Notts’ seamer’s mode of attack became predictable as he continued to persist with Test match-style lengths and failed to introduce changes of pace when needed. Consequently, Ball ended with figures of 1-82 from his 10 overs, becoming the first bowler to concede more than 80 runs in an ODI three times in a calendar year.
His struggles were synonymous with the problems England currently have with the ball, and with Mark Wood also failing to find any wicket-taking form, the hosts are still trying to find a way to match consistency with the ball with that of their batting. That, combined with the surprising omission of Rashid, who has taken the second-most wickets in ODI cricket over the last two years, meant that England lacked variety and threat in the middle overs as Tamim and Mushfiqur Rahim made hay in the sunshine.
The second worrying event came after England secured the eight-wicket victory as it was revealed that Chris Woakes was ruled for the rest of the Champions Trophy. And if there was one bowler Eoin Morgan’s men would not have wanted to lose, it would have been Woakes. Amid the continuing uncertainty surrounding England’s pace attack, the Warwickshire man has emerged as a true threat up front with his pace and bounce. His 2017 ODI average of 18.23, with 17 wickets and an economy of under five underlined his importance. He will be a huge miss.
The likelihood is that England will replace Woakes with an out and out strike bowler, such as Steven Finn, Stuart Broad or even Tom Curran. Yet, the real challenge for England will now be to show fast improvements with the ball. Liam Plunkett led by example on Thursday with an impressive mix of deliveries that proved effective, especially towards the end of the innings when Bangladesh began to lose their way – the seamer finished with 4-59.
“With the big boundary, I could use my cutters and a few bumpers to make them (Bangladesh) hit towards that side – that’s what I tried to do towards the end and I managed to pick up wickets,” Plunkett told Sky Sports, who asked him what method worked best for him. “You need to do that (change your pace). You can’t just roll up and bowl seam up all throughout the game because people will target you. You need to keep improving year by year.”
Perhaps England can follow the example set by Plunkett, who is fastly developing his reputation as a bowler with a great variety of deliveries in his armoury. And the rewards are there to see, with the Yorkshire paceman taking 21 wickets from his last eight ODI matches. There is plenty that the rest of the England seam attack can learn from the improvement of Plunkett as an adaptable limited-overs bowler.
So amid the attention on another excellent chase by England’s powerful batting line-up, it is the lack of ability to take wickets and apply pressure in the middle period of an innings that could affect their chances of a maiden Champions Trophy triumph. Some big decisions and improvements will have to be made and made fast before it’s too late.