Two games gone, three to go. And England are on the brink of their second ODI series win against Australia in the space of six months. Leaving aside Australia’s well-documented absentees for one moment, victory at Trent Bridge would be further confirmation of England’s radical departure from their traditions in limited-overs cricket – the last time they won back-to-back ODI series against Australian opposition was way back in 1986-87.
And yet, it’s been a curious pair of performances to date. England should have won the first match at a canter after Australia’s batting imploded at The Oval, but it was that very act of cantering that almost derailed them in a three-wicket win. And then, in Cardiff, England seemed somehow to have left a good 30 runs out in the middle in nevertheless amassing their highest ODI total against Australia. With a bit more adequate support, Shaun Marsh‘s defiant 131 might have punished them much as Ross Taylor had done in a similarly sized chase in Dunedin in March.
Small quibbles perhaps, but a reflection nevertheless of the strange paranoia surrounding England’s No.1-ranked ODI team. Like the All Blacks prior to their 2011 World Cup win, there’s a nagging suspicion that Eoin Morgan’s men have managed to peak too soon for the big event – that their bowling (admittedly missing its usual depth in the absence of two key allrounders, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes) lacks penetration, while their batting, formidable when on-song, is prone to unravel when faced with either challenging conditions or bowling.
In spite of slumping to their seventh defeat in eight ODIs against England, Australia have at least shown glimpses of the fighting spirit that they will need when their World Cup defence gets underway in just under a year’s time. There’s certainly little wrong with their back-up fast-bowling resources, with Billy Stanlake, Jhye Richardson and (though he was luckless in Cardiff) Andrew Tye all showing plenty of reasons why they can challenge the hegemony of the Big Three, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
But then there’s the batting – Marsh’s remarkable hundred aside, there’s been little evidence of class or durability from the remainder of the line-up, with Glenn Maxwell’s two unfulfilled innings of 62 and 31 symptomatic of the team’s wider malaise. There’s been little wrong with their T20 form in recent times – as England discovered to their cost in the winter – but with a less robust tail over the longer format, they’ve lacked the faith in their team-mates that England (for better as well as worse) have made a central plank of their no-holds-barred approach.
There’s time to turn it around, of course – particularly if Australia’s bowlers get on an early roll against a team who still don’t entirely fancy setting a target. But on another true surface at Nottingham, the scene of England’s record-breaking 444 for 3 two years ago, you suspect it’s going to be another stiff test of Australia’s mettle.
England WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Pressure for batting places is rarely a bad thing, except for the under-performing player whose turn it is to sit in the spotlight. That accolade, for the moment at least, has passed to Alex Hales, who has already been dislodged from his opening berth due to Jonny Bairstow’s rapacious run of form, and who is unlikely to bump Jason Roy out of the top slot in a hurry either, following the latter’s matchwinning hundred at Cardiff. Besides, Hales has endured a tricky start to the year – no great wealth of runs or opportunities in the IPL, followed by a highest score of 52 since his return to England – that in an innings against Scotland that was arguably more notable for his running-out of Joe Root. With Ben Stokes waiting in the wings, he needs a score to cement his spot.
No one would envy the circumstances in which Tim Paine inherited the Australia captaincy, but while his all-round good-eggery may be what the team needed to address its short-term cultural concerns, his credentials in the longer term are bound to be judged, as always, by victory and defeat. And to that end, Paine desperately needs to get his team off the mark in this series, and ideally, to be instrumental to that achievement as well. He had a chance at Cardiff to be a hero – with Marsh going strong at the other end, he needed to be the man to hang around. Instead, he holed out limply to Liam Plunkett, having moments earlier survived a dropped chance. A fine catch behind the stumps, soon after a nasty facial blow, was proof of Paine’s quality as a keeper, but Alex Carey is due a chance at some stage. The reigning World Champions cannot afford to have any passengers in the build-up to 2019.
The England management have confirmed that Stokes is closer to a return to action than his fellow injury concern, Chris Woakes, who has been ruled out of a return at any stage in this series as he recovers from a “chronic” knee injury. Stokes, meanwhile has been rated as running at “90% capacity” after his hamstring tear. He’s likelier to feature in the India series than the remaining matches against Australia, though he will remain with the squad throughout. Eoin Morgan, who missed the Cardiff game with a back spasm, took part in training and is expected to slot straight back in for Sam Billings, although Jonny Bairstow could be a doubt with a knee problem that remained strapped on Monday.
England: (probable) 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 Jason Roy, 3 Alex Hales, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 David Willey, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood
The experiment of shifting Aaron Finch to the middle order was not an unqualified success, but it seems likely that Australia will persist with that policy to allow D’Arcy Short to take another stab at the top of the order alongside Travis Head – especially as Marcus Stoinis proved to be the pick of their bowlers at Cardiff, having not been called upon in the first match. Billy Stanlake’s height and pace were sorely missed in that contest when he had to withdraw with a toe injury. Assuming that has healed up, he can expect to dislodge one of Australia’s pair of Richardsons with the new ball.
Australia: (possible) 1 Travis Head, 2 D’Arcy Short, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Marcus Stoinis, 5 Aaron Finch, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Tim Paine (capt wk), 8 Ashton Agar, 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Jhye Richardson/Kane Richardson, 11 Billy Stanlake
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is likely to be another Trent Bridge belter, and the weather – while not set to be blazing – looks set to be dry. Lots of runs seem likelier than not.
Stats and trivia
After missing the Cardiff match, Morgan still needs 41 runs to overtake Ian Bell as England’s leading run-scorer in ODIs.
Australia have won just twice in 15 ODIs since the Champions Trophy in 2017 – a win-loss ratio that is the worst for any ODI team in the past 12 months.
They’ve got a way to go yet before they can start targeting whitewashes, but given the current state of the two teams, England will rarely have a better chance to beat Australia 5-0 in an ODI series – their best result was 4-0, with one wash-out, in 2012.
“We haven’t quite been at our best and where we want to be this time next year. The Australians will always come hard and will be thirsty to beat the English, no matter what format and no matter who’s playing. We’re expecting tough competition in the other three games.”
Alex Hales on England’s progress in the series
Article source: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/1149704.html?CMP=OTC-RSS