Jonny Bairstow was the one member of England’s top order to show some circumspection © Getty Images
Say what you like about Trevor Bayliss: he’s consistent.
Some coaches might have been reeling after their side set a new record for the worst five overs in ODI history.
Some coaches might have urged their batsmen to exercise greater caution after they lost six wickets in the first 30 balls of an ODI and their tailenders were dismissed slogging with almost 20 overs of their innings left unused.
But not Bayliss.
Instead of admonishing his team for their aggression at Lord’s, he criticised them for being tentative. Instead of calling upon them to be more careful, he urged them to be more positive. And instead of long introspective team meetings where Monday’s defeat is discussed and dissected, it seems he is happy to dismiss the performance as something of an aberration.
He’s quite right, too.
England have made outstanding progress as a white-ball side over the last couple of years. That progress, to a large extent, has been built upon an uncompromisingly positive approach that allows now room for fear or doubt.
That’s not to say England shouldn’t have played differently on Monday. Of course they should have adapted to the conditions more quickly. Of course they should have realised that a total of 270 might have proved match-winning. And, as Bayliss acknowledges, positivity can extend to defending confidently and showing just a bit of flexibility.
But now is not the time for introspection. Now, on the eve of a major tournament, is not the time to inject negativity or doubt into the dressing room.
Instead, now is the time to remain bold. Now is the time to enforce all the messages that have led to the improvements England have enjoyed in recent times. Now is the time to focus not on losing Monday’s match, but on beating the No. 1 rated ODI side 2-1 in a run of eight successive victories. It’s time to ensure the players go into the Champions Trophy feeling as relaxed and confident as possible. They are committed to the course they are on; they mustn’t let their focus be drawn away now.
“I thought we actually looked a bit tentative,” Bayliss said as he reflected on England’s batting on Monday. “We weren’t, in our minds, positive enough. That comes in defending well and getting that extra couple of inches into the ball. That can happen on wickets that are doing a bit. It was one of those days when we nicked them. You have to take the good with the bad and be a bit flexible and better than we were at Lord’s.
“We’ve won that way. When it doesn’t come off it can look ordinary. But the one thing this team has done well is have sessions like that, then come out and play like they have two games before and make 300. That’s one of the strengths of this team.”
While there are legitimate reservations over Bayliss’ approach in Test cricket – where discipline and denial remain as important as flair and positivity – his white-ball methods have resulted in clearer progress. And his belief that a conservative approach has never won a global limited-overs tournament is probably true.
“I haven’t seen a team win a global tournament playing defensively,” he said. “It’s always a team that backs itself and plays bold cricket.
“From that point of view, the message won’t change. I don’t think we’ll see too many of the wickets we saw at Lord’s during the Champions Trophy, but you never know. We have to be smart enough to work it out. You can still have a good, positive mind on these wickets. You can still defend well, leave well and pick the right ball to hit.”
Bayliss’ consistency is also refreshing in terms of England’s history ahead of global limited-overs tournaments. Whereas, in the past, England’s plans have tended to be thrown away at the last minute in pursuit of a new fad – think of the 2011 World Cup for a classic example – Bayliss will stay the course with the approach and the team that have become familiar. Win or lose, England will do it his way.
The one area where any doubt remains is over the inclusion – or exclusion – of Jonny Bairstow. There is no doubt that Bairstow’s form – both in red and white-ball cricket – has made a persuasive case but, while there are some concerns over Jason Roy‘s form, it remains unlikely England will make a change at the start of the tournament, at least.
“He just keeps doing the right things,” Bayliss said of Bairstow. “It’s going to be an interesting selection meeting.
“You worry about anyone that is out of runs, but Jason has been been important to us in the last two years. We will need Jason playing well at the top of the order.
“Having said that, the way Jonny is playing…. He has shown us he can play at the top of the order – we’re in a good position with someone who is ready and raring to go. I’m pleased we have a guy in good nick. Jonny has proved to us a number of times he’s a very good player. I’m not going to say one way or the other [who we’ll pick], but it’s good to have an option.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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