June 14th 2017. England’s ODI side have walked off the field after a resounding eight-wicket defeat by Pakistan in the semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy. “We left ourselves short adapting to conditions,” said captain Eoin Morgan. “It’s a big frustration because I think we’ve played some great cricket in this tournament and we weren’t anywhere close to it today. Credit to Pakistan, they played brilliantly.”
Morgan’s words summed up the stage England’s ODI team were at following their post-2015 World Cup resurgence – a side with enormous talent and promise but also one that was inconsistent and still relatively inexperienced on the big stage. When it really mattered, England didn’t deliver.
And it wasn’t just that fatal semi-final in Cardiff, England blew a 2-0 series lead in South Africa to lose 3-2, they lost the deciding ODI of another five-match series at home to Australia in 2015 and, despite playing well, lost 2-1 in India in January of last year. For all the positivity and excitement surrounding this side, it was now time to correct this, be more consistent and perform when the pressure really heats up.
Fast forward to March 10th and England have just walked off the field at Hagley Oval, Christchurch after convincingly beating New Zealand, such a formidable one-day side at home, 3-2 in a fascinating series. The series was locked at 2-2, largely due to the heroics of Ross Taylor, and this was a time when England needed to perform when it really counts. They did just that.
England with Huge Australia, New Zealand ODI Series Wins
This series win, along with the equally if not more impressive 4-1 series win in Australia just six weeks previously have marked a watershed moment for this England ODI team. Before, they were a side who had talent and ability by the bucket full but were unpredictable and inconsistent at the same time. Now, this is a mature side who look like they know how to play consistently good cricket and win in the real big games.
Not only does England’s side look as settled as it has ever been, boosted even further by the return of Ben Stokes, but they now have a large pool of players to choose from, should the inevitable injury or loss in form occur. The fact that the likes of James Vince, Sam Billings and Liam Livingstone are struggling to get a look in, along with Alex Hales and David Willey being in and out of the team, underlines the strength in depth of the squad.
And then we have the experience. Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler have all played over 100 ODI’s, with Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes also boasting over 70 caps each. This is a side that has been playing together for a significant amount of time now and the benefits of that are showing more than ever. Each player knows their role inside out and the game plan is clear within the side.
That sort of clarity has allowed England’s ODI outfit to play with a real freedom ever since 2015, yet their maturity as a side is now winning them games in which they haven’t performed to their high standards. “Reproducing things you do every day under pressure is something we do as professional sportsmen but doing it in a must-win game is that bit more important,” Morgan said after sealing the series in New Zealand. “We haven’t necessarily played our perfect game this winter but we’ve shown a lot of fight and character. We’ve won some games where, perhaps, we didn’t deserve to win them and that’s a really good sign for the team.”
Indeed, a key part of England’s success in ODI’s this winter has been the improvement of the bowling. Sure, England possess one of the most explosive batting line-ups in world cricket but we have known that for a while now. It has mostly been the bowling which had let them down in key games in the past but this winter offered a lot to be positive about.
Along with Jos Buttler’s brilliant hundred, it was Chris Woakes and Mark Wood’s brilliant death bowling that sealed the series at Sydney. Furthermore, in the final match at Perth, it was Tom Curran’s outstanding 5-35 that destroyed any hopes Australia had of chasing down England’s below-par total of 259.
Then, in New Zealand, a disciplined bowling display restricted the home side to just 223 all out at Mount Maunganui, which England chased down with ease. In the next game in Wellington, on a slow wicket, England made only 234 but defended it thanks to some brilliant spells in the middle overs from spinners Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, as well as an expert piece of death bowling from Woakes.
Then, in Christchurch, with the series on the line and the pressure turned up, England’s bowlers produced yet another outstanding display in restricting New Zealand to 223, a total that was admirably made after England reduced them to 93-6. These were signs that England’s bowling is now matching the batting as an extremely potent part of their one-day cricket.
Looking forward, England now look better equipped to match their undoubted talent with ruthless consistency. Such a key feature in a World Cup winning side is their preparation months, and in some cases years, before the tournament starts and this England team have a group of players who are not only experienced on the big stage themselves but have gone through the rough and the smooth together as a team.
So much planning, money and effort has gone into building England’s ODI side since that horror show at the 2015 World Cup. Now, after the major blip last year in Cardiff against Pakistan, it looks like the wheels are starting to fall into a place for a side that looks as good as its ever been.
The countdown up to the World Cup ever looms, and England’s winter success shows they are ready to deliver consistently on the major stage.