Much against my better judgement (as ODI is becoming a very tired format and having a seven match series is just pure greed), I tuned into the 3rd ODI between England and Australia at The Rose Bowl yesterday. Once again, England were woeful with the bat, which contributed to another turgid affair where it was obvious Australia were going to win for the last 30 overs. The debate on the abolition of ODI can wait for another day but whilst this format is still a big part of the international calendar England need a new plan especially when it comes to batting.
Everyone knows what England’s main problem is – they don’t score enough centuries in one dayers (worryingly this trend seems to have spilled over into Tests as well if the Ashes series is anything to go by). The fact that they have scored no centuries in this series and none indeed since Andrew Strauss scored 105 in the 2nd ODI against the West Indies in Guyana in March is hardly surprising when you consider the ODI records of the top four batters used by England in the current series; the top four being the most likely century makers in ODI as they are most likely to have the time required to compile a ton.
In his ODI career, Strauss has scored three centuries in 88 matches at an average of 33.17, although in his defence since he came back into the one day side in the West Indies, he has scored one ton and three fifties in ten innings. His opening partner Bopara has no tons and only four fifties in 44 matches at an average of only 28.90. It gets worse. Prior, who is inexplicably batting at number three, has also played 44 ODI (mostly as an opener) and also has no tons and only two fifties at the extremely mediocre average of 24.08. Finally, Shah has one century and 11 fifties from 63 matches at a slightly more healthy average of 30.55. So in total that is four centuries in 239 matches. This is a shockingly bad statistic.
Unfortunately, England have already picked their squad for the Champions Trophy in South Africa so it could well get worse before it gets better. Even more than he was missed from the Test side in the last three Tests, the absence of Kevin Pietersen is having a damaging effect on England’s one day team. In 92 ODIs, Pietersen has scored seven centuries and 20 fifties, and has a great average of 46.67. In addition, he has the ability to adapt his game to the match situation in terms of playing big shots or steady accumulation. Laments are also being sung for Marcus Trescothick whose brilliance at the top of the order (12 centuries in 123 ODI at a strike rate of 85.21) has never been replaced.
So what can England do? Well as I said not much in the short term, but unless they make a Lazarus like recovery in the current ODI series and astound the World in the Champions Trophy, serious restructuring is required for the ensuing one day series in South Africa (yes we still have to contend with yet more ODI before England resumes Tests against the Proteas at Centurion on 16 December).
Assuming that Strauss will continue as skipper (at least it looks like he is capable of scoring tons at the top of the order), then a new opening partner is urgently required as Bopara should either bat down the order or be dropped completely. The mistake of opening with Prior should not be repeated (why is it that England are obsessed with keepers opening the batting in ODI? We do not have an Adam Gilchrist!). Cook, although he has shown some improvement in his one day game for Essex this season, is too similar in style to Strauss, and the same goes for Bell. I would go for Jonathan Trott, who is inexplicably not in the ODI squad despite his stunning performance in the final Test, a good season for Warwickshire in all formats and a healthy one day career average of 42.42. Trott also has the ability to play in different gears and seems likely to be able to score tons at ODI level.
Pietersen should then come in at three, where it can be expected he would be able to score centuries on a more regular basis than he has been able to do down the order. Collingwood should be nailed on for the number four or five slot, which means that Shah, Bopara, Morgan or A.N. Other can battle it out for the final position in the top five (until Flintoff returns – if he does). That leaves Wright, Broad, Prior, Rashid, Mascharenas and Swann to fight for positions six to nine and then two quicks at ten and eleven.
A team of Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Wright, Prior, Broad, Rashid, Swann and Anderson has a much better look about it.
One of the other lessons that England should learn is that they need to be more flexible with switching the batting order. When Bopara was out at 74 in the second ODI, with Strauss going well and England only needing five an over on a good pitch, the nudge and nurdle style of Collingwood was what was needed not the hit and miss style of Prior. Likewise, if England lose a wicket in the early overs and need to step on the gas, why not send Swann or Wright up the order to provide some impetus?
The other main lesson concerns when to take the batting powerplay. This should have been taken early on during the second ODI as even an above average performance during the five overs would have probably made the game safe for England. So far, the powerplay has been taken far too late in the day in every match. Wise up England.
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