The six which Ben Foakes hit against Ireland on Friday was a surprise within the context of that match: it was England’s first boundary for 31 balls and only the second in 72. Yet the greater surprise was perhaps that it remained the only such scoring shot in the England innings, for England have hit one six or none on just 18 occasions since the 2015 World Cup. England have played 83 matches in that time.
Furthermore, there have been two times when they could not have possibly have scored a six because rain abandoned the match before they could start batting. The first instance showed little more than Cricket Ireland’s unique vulnerability to rain at Malahide; the second showed even less. Then there are the two instances in which they could not reasonably have been expected to score a six because the rain prevented more than 95% of their full allotment of overs from taking place, only receiving a full T20 spell against Sri Lanka at Bristol in 2016 and 2.2 overs against West Indies at Nottingham in 2017 (although the run rate (nine) was like that of a T20 match). Batting incompetence is explicable as the primary cause of England not hitting a six in an ODI since the last World Cup on just two occasions, and in the first instance it was Ireland’s; the sole example of England failing to hit a six because of their own flaws with the bat was when Pakistan eliminated them from the Champions Trophy in 2017.
That leaves 12 times in which a solitary six has been hit. To highlight the difference in approach since the 2015 World Cup, it is worth looking at the other end of the equation. The record for most sixes by an England team in an ODI innings stood at 12 for more than five years before it was broken against New Zealand in their first ODI batting innings after that competition. The new mark of 14 was equalled in the very next match and stood for just eight months, thanks to the eight batsmen who hit 15 sixes between them against South Africa in Bloemfontein in February 2016. That lasted until Alex Hales, Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan registered 16 sixes against Pakistan at Nottingham in August of that year. The same trio, along with Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, hit 21 sixes as part of their destruction of Australia at the same ground two years later, after the record had come close to being broken twice. While that total of 481 is yet to be topped, England have already hit more sixes in an innings, scoring 24 in a much closer hitting contest against West Indies earlier this year.
Of course, that still accounts for a minority of matches. That leaves 48 other matches in which the number of sixes hit was between two and nine, and that’s not surprising. There is not such a priority on sixes in ODI cricket as there is in T20 cricket. But there has been no England team which has placed such an emphasis on that scoring option.