On Saturday evening, cricket fans were treated to something rather incredible: the perplexing sight of England cruising to victory over Australia to clinch the ongoing ODI series 3-0. Even more surprising, the series been more a cake-walk than a contest for England
Indeed, the significance of this event has not been lost on commentators, as they remember a time not too long ago when even solitary ODI victories over the Aussies were to be gratefully savoured: tasks of herculean application and effort on England’s part.
In this light, fans could be forgiven for doing a double-take when Alastair Cook’s side crushed the Aussies with all of 13 delivers and 8 wickets to spare at Durham on Saturday.It was a performance of clarity; professionalism and control, moving Australian coach, Mickey Arthur to say his side were nothing less than “bullied” around by the far superior England.
With all the hype surrounding England now, the only real question left is this: to what do we attribute England’s phenomenal success? Is it really a product of England’s own brilliance?
The pessimist in me would say no. England, it could be argued, have been the lucky beneficiaries of absurdly advantageous home pitches, brittle opposition and overworking international schedules. Indeed, England’s Test record abroad in the UAE and in Sri Lanka leaves much to be desired.
But for how long can critics keep raising these same tired points. The fact of the matter is that England have dominated not just Australia, but Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the West Indies in the last year.
Captain and opener, Alistair Cook has scored a staggering 522 runs at an average of 58, while Ian Bell’s average has soared to 78.20 for the current year.
The bowling, moreover, has been exceptional. England can now balance between a stable of exceptional ODI fast bowlers, including Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Jade Dernbach. Finn, with his glossy 22 wickets this year, devastating variations and 90mph effort balls, has been an absolute joy to watch over in Durham and heralds even more good things to come.
The current series against Australia, moreover, is merely reflective of this prodigious and lucrative passage of English cricket. From Eoin Morgan’s devastating 89* from 63 deliveries in the first ODI on a turbulent Lords pitch, to Ravi Bopara’s clinical 82 from 85 balls at the Oval, England have exhibited both flair and discipline: hallmarks of a successful ODI team.
But that last statistic begs the obvious question. Is it the case that England are performing superbly, or in actuality, is it merely the Aussies playing poorly? The latter is true up to a point. The Australians are, after all a team in transition, having lost Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden and Warne: men who could wrest matches away within the first 10 overs.
The replacement top order of Shane Watson, David Warner and Peter Forrest have shown obvious promise and excitement on this tour, but lack consistency on the English pitches. Warner, for instance, has scored just 68 runs in the last three ODI’s of this tour.
Such abysmal results have made coach Mickey Arthur question whether “There’s just something missing. Is it character, is it ambition?”, as he watched bowler Brett Lee, who bafflingly has the highest Australian batting average on tour, and Shane Watson return to Australia after both picked up calf injuries at Durham.
But we must not overstate this point. Yes, the Australian outfit is not what it once was, but they have a lot of fight left in them and feature the likes of Michael Clarke and David Warner: men who demolished India just seven months ago, while Clarke cruised to a colossal triple century.
Such feats are well within the ambit of Australian cricket even now. It is within this framework that we simply have to hand it to England: they have played with discipline and outmuscled their Australian opponents convincingly.
After the final 4th ODI, England will ready themselves for a Test series against South Africa. Let us hope it makes for a more gripping contest than the current ODI tour.