It was a familiar tale. England looked good for large parts of an ODI and appeared to be ahead during long passages of the match, only to throw it all away and end up as valiant losers once again.
It would be easy to suggest that England’s ODI defeat to Australia today was another failure to hammer home an advantage in a game, and another example of cracking under pressure.
But while England did ultimately come up short once again, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Firstly, there are some mitigating factors at play here. Steve Smith has transformed himself from unorthodox flaky leg-spinner into Australia’s middle order rock, in one of the most staggering turnarounds I can remember. His innings today was close to perfection, he timed the ball crisply from the moment he arrived at the crease and, in truth, never looked like getting out.
If I were being ultra-critical on England’s bowlers, I would say that they bowled too straight to a man who has scored over 60% of his career ODI runs through the legside. But such is the form and confidence of Smith at the moment, that it wouldn’t really matter where England bowl.
So, England aren’t a bad bowling side, as witnessed earlier this week against India. Against a batsman in the form that Smith is in, and on a pitch that was good enough to drive your car down, any bowling attack would have struggled.
That England were even defending a score in excess of 300 owed an enormous amount to the classy innings from Ian Bell. After showing his form against India, he was able to bat for longer today, and looked every inch the class Test player, he has often failed to be in the shorter formats. He raced along at more than a run a ball, without appearing to play a shot in anger. One of Bell’s rarest talents is his ability to score quickly with orthodox strokes, and in Australian conditions he may just end the World Cup as England’s highest run-scorer.
While James Taylor kept Bell company up in Brisbane, today the Notts man looked scratchy and edgy. His technique is such that he plays the ball almost invariably while still on the move. This is no bother when he is set at the crease, but for his first ten or so deliveries he looks extremely susceptible to playing across the line – something he will need to work on over the coming weeks.
The stroke-play of Ian Bell, and his understudy Joe Root, showed that England are capable of scoring runs against any attack in the world. The bowling attack stuck to their task well in the face of a flat deck and the most in form batsmen in world cricket. Neither of these facets of England’s game can be said to have failed.
Quite simply, where England lost the game today was during their final 10 overs with the bat. After 40 overs they had reached 244/2 and looked set to post a total in excess of 320, but the last overs yielded just 59 runs and they also lost 5 wickets as they limped tamely to 303/8. Though a score in excess of 300, particularly from England, would usually be cause for great optimism, the tame ending to the batting innings, undermined England’s entire performance.
England ran out of steam in the final ten overs, as they struggled to find the boundary with anything like the regularity required. Buttler and Bopara, usually two fine finishers for England, couldn’t time the ball for toffee, and stagnated to a combined total of 32 from 40 balls. Sure, some of this can be put down to good Australian bowling, as they strangled England by taking wickets and allowing them no width. But primarily, it was a lack of proactive batting from England that led to the score being under-par.
I’m not necessarily talking about wandering about the crease and charging the bowlers, as a means of being proactive. Simply running singles and two’s with more intensity would have created more scoring opportunities for England’s middle order. Sometimes they can have a tendency to feel the need to hit a boundary every ball, when in truth singles and two’s can easily turn the tide, and lead to the wayward deliveries that can be dispatched to the rope.
Despite England’s failure to cash-in during the final ten overs, the game as a whole was certainly not a complete write-off. After the trouncing of an abject India side, this slender loss to the best ODI side in the world, proves that England are building form and confidence ahead of the World Cup.
For Australia, with Warner, Johnson and Bailey all still to return, they could not be in better shape. They are undefeated in the tri-series and in their current form they don’t look like losing anytime soon. If they continue like this, it is only the weight of expectation and the home crowd, which can halt their charge to the World Cup crown.