The New Year is a time to turn over a new leaf. Forget the immediate past and focus on improving the future. Despite the England team spending Christmas at home, their quest to right the wrongs of December’s Test series – which India dominated 4-0 – failed stupendously.
In both the three match One Day International series and the three T20 Internationals England were convincingly beaten 2-1 and a new set of resolutions needs drawing up only two months into the New Year.
With short-format silverware in the shape of a The Champions Trophy up for grabs this summer, the tournament’s hosts, England, must find answers quickly.
Aside from implementing batting collapse management polices and improving death bowling, Eoin Morgan must be more adaptable, particularly when time is less pressured in ODI cricket and his bowlers are slower to respond.
England’s TwentyTwenty bowling duo of Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills exposed the cracks in the 50-overs side. In the first T20 – which England won by 7 wickets with 11 balls remaining – the pair were quick to mix up their lengths preventing India’s batsman from feeling comfortable at the crease. This restricted their hosts to 147, MS Dhoni the top scorer with 36-not out.
Mills and Jordan again showed their flexibility three days later, limiting India to another innings total below 150. Losing the game in a nail-biting finale, England were exceedingly unfortunate, particularly as their bowlers had been adaptable and consistently resisted India’s advances.
But Jordan and Mills not playing 50-overs cricket – Mills is limited to twenty-over cricket on account of his back troubles Jordan, on the other hand, was overlooked – the one-day bowling attack was lackluster. The inspired pick-n-mix deliveries offered by Jordan in the Twenty-over series a stark reminder of what was missing from England’s 50-overs performances.
Indeed, with two Indian batsmen making centuries in the first and second ODIs – Virat Kohli’s 122 and Kedar Jadhav’s 120, followed by Yuvraj Singh’s 183 ball 150 and 134 from MS Dhoni – the England bowling attack were left exposed and vulnerable.
India’s centurions cashed in on their opponents predictability rather than particularly bad bowling. Jake Ball and Ben Stokes attempted to offer variety, but failed to hit the mark, short of a length deliveries disappearing into the crowd.
England must, therefore, utilise their assets more. Jordan’s omission from the ODI squad in India and the upcoming West Indies white ball tour is an oversight by selectors. Not just for the adaptability he is currently showing, but also his death bowling would offer Morgan more options.
Coupled with England’s sluggish response to India’s batsmen, their 50-overs mindset was significantly less aggressive than that of their hosts. The trademark of ‘old-style one-day batting’, a distinctive middle overs lull in the scoring rate, was plain to see in England’s innings.
During the first game England scored a total of 25 runs between the 26th and 31st over, compared to India’s 56 runs scored in the same period. They dropped off again, accumulating just 26 runs where India had taken 41 from the 38th to the 42nd over.
If England’s bowling attack continues to lack bite in the Champions Trophy then their batsmen cannot afford to settle in this middle period. Top white ball teams all keep their foot pressed firmly on the gas to get close to the 400 score now considered par.
Batting second in Cuttack, India’s 15 run victory and captain Morgan’s century balanced the scoring rate, but still England allowed their hosts to slow them down in three distinctive patches. Again, there was an 8-over lull between 17th and 25th in Kolkata, scene of England’s World T20 final defeat, and the third ODI. England’s most fruitful over of this stretch producing just 7 runs and an 8 over total 17 runs short of India’s.
Nonetheless, fixing the issue is not necessarily difficult. In Jason Roy and Sam Billings they have two natural aggressors. And Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Morgan are old hands at fast pace scoring.
But with questions over the bowling attack remaining, England are still vulnerable to the circling vultures of the world’s top white ball teams. Only time will tell if they will survive the attack.