• Last updated on Sun, 17 Jun, 2018, 12:44 AM
England achieved the highest-ever ODI total in Cardiff – 342/8 © Getty
Three times in the past year, England’s one-day team have been bowled out cheaply within their 50 overs after losing the toss and being asked to bat first. At Lord’s against South Africa last May they made 153, in the Champions Trophy in Cardiff a few weeks later, Pakistan bowled them out for 211 and then in Adelaide this winter, Australia dismissed England for 196. On each occasion, England lost the game.
But more than simply being disappointing defeats for them, those three games displayed a chink in England’s batting armoury when conditions are in the bowlers’ favour. The common factor? A failure to assess quickly enough what a good score was and then adjust their play to suit it. Guilty of trying to reach a score of 350 when 270 would have been competitive.
It cost them in last summer’s Champions Trophy when they went too hard on a slowish, used pitch against Pakistan and were bundled out for 80 runs below par. In the lead-up to that tournament at Lord’s against South Africa, England’s top order kept flashing when Kasigo Rabada was swinging it round corners and they were reduced to 20 for six. It was even worse in similarly helpful bowling conditions in Adelaide when their first five wickets fell with just eight (8) runs on the board.
In all three of these games, conditions were tricky for batting early on and England failed to reign in the aggressive mindset which has so revolutionised their one-day cricket since the last World Cup. Particularly at Lord’s and Adelaide Oval, the batsmen simply didn’t play to the conditions.
It’s a tricky balance to strike, of course. The aggression and positive intent of England’s batting has been the principal reason for their rise to number one in the ODI rankings. It has propelled them to nine wins in their last ten bilateral series and allowed them to score, on average, at better than a run-a-ball for the last three years. It’s vital that England don’t change course now.
But at the same time, if they are truly to become a more rounded team, they need to be able to adjust their approach to conditions, particularly when batting first. Their record when they set a total over the past two years is markedly inferior to their record when chasing. Their win percentage is 72% when batting second compared to 56% when bowling second. In next year’s World Cup, they will need to set scores and defend them.
So it will have pleased England’s management to see the team set a challenging total in the second ODI Cardiff after Australian captain Tim Paine asked them to bat first. It was a grey, damp morning and the pitch had a tinge of green which suggested things would not be easy for batting, although conditions were probably not as helpful to the bowlers as it may have first looked. There was little swing or seam on offer and the pitch played well for the most part even if a few balls misbehaved.
Not that the difficulty or otherwise of the conditions mattered. Much more importantly for England’s development was in how they approached the task of setting a total.
It may seem strange to suggest that they played within themselves for much of the innings and still made 342, the highest ODI score ever made at Cardiff, but they did. In particular, they played cautiously against the new ball, well aware of the potential for early damage which has cost them previously, and then again once the first wicket had fallen. Crucially, they were just one down at the end of the first 15 overs.
Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy took 21 of the first 30 deliveries which a healthy enough strike rate but there were no expansive drives early on, no attempts to hit the ball over the top. Instead, there was soft hands, good running and aggression only at short or very full balls. When they had sized up the situation, Bairstow went on the attack, taking 27 runs from his last nine balls.
Roy, happy to play second fiddle to Bairstow, reached his fifth, and most measured, ODI century to date, far less destructive than his 180 against the same opposition in Melbourne in January. His hundred arrived off 97 balls – hardly slow – and he was particularly happy to milk the spin bowlers once he had passed 50. But it was a patient, responsible innings, perhaps in recognition that a score above 300 would be a tough ask for a weak Australian batting line-up.
The platform that Roy, Bairstow and Alex Hales set allowed Jos Buttler to come in and have free reign in the middle order. Had it not been for a quiet spell between 35 and 40 overs when spinners Ashton Agar and Darcy Short contained England, it could have been a truly mammoth total. Nevertheless, Buttler powered England to a winning score and with Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes to come back into the engine room, they certainly have the firepower to catch up on days when more circumspection is required early on.
After the defeat in Edinburgh last weekend, Moeen Ali was asked about his dismissal. He was caught on the leg-side boundary aiming to heave the ball into the crowd when England needed more or less a run a ball to win. “The ball was there and I just mis-hit it,” Moeen said afterwards. “From my point of view it’s best not to have any doubt. I will stay true to myself.”
Fair enough – and England shouldn’t lose that attacking mindset – but sometimes, just sometimes, they do need to adapt. They did that well today and registered a win that could have great significance if they get asked to bat first in tricky conditions during next year’s World Cup. It’s given them a batting template and one that could prove vitally important for their future prospects.