England players attend a practice session at the Oval on Wednesday, a day before their tournament opener against Bangladesh. Reuters
Polite and pedantic, perhaps, are the best ways to describe England’s ODI cricket prior to the 2015 World Cup debacle. Enough, of course, has been written about their dramatic transformation in the two years hence. It was their inability to go for the jugular and the penchant to rather sit back in quiet desperation that was exposed so humiliatingly against Bangladesh at the Adelaide Oval on that fateful March evening. And it’s poetic that it’s Bangladesh they took in the tournament opener of the Champions Trophy, the first ICC 50-over tournament since that World Cup, and it’s Bangladesh who are likely to face their wrath.
For, that’s exactly what they have done ever since. They’ve gone for the jugular. They’ve gone out in gung-ho fashion thanks to the likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and of course Eoin Morgan. Along the way, England might have also reinvigorated interest in a format that was under threat in terms of relevance according to most. Imagine that, for once, England have gone from inventing to reinventing a cricketing format. They’ve made ODI cricket sexy again.
For long they were considered to be so far behind the pace-race in terms of ODI cricket, it was almost like the rest of the world had gone to the Moon and back while the English were still figuring their way out with getting their rocket airborne. But thanks to Buttler & Co, they are taking flight faster than any other team around and also ending up farther too, cricketing-wise that is. They have crossed 300 more often than everyone else, and have actually done so in 10 out of the last 11 times they’ve batted first.
It’s South Africa, Australia and India who are playing catch-up for a change. It’s not just while setting totals though, England have mastered their greatest challenge, chasing big totals, and those scenes of Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley plodding away towards West Indies’ total in the 1979 World Cup final aren’t brought up too often anymore.
England have also been rather generous hosts over the years. More ICC 50-over tournaments have been held here than anywhere else -four World Cups and two Champions Trophy events, the current one being the third. And despite having reached the final on three of those occasions, England never seem to have come close enough to be champions.
They have actually reached the final both times the Champions Trophy was held in their backyard. But on both those occasions it seemed more a case of the pre-tournament favourites missing out or messing up rather than the English storming their way into the final. If anything they got there unnoticed, despite playing in their own backyard with the focus more on unexpected departures and reversals elsewhere. Funnily, they dominated both contests for crucial periods but then let Browne and Bradshaw for the West Indies in 2004, and the Indian bowlers in 2015 spoil their party-once again failing to force the issue and waiting for the result to go their way.
That won’t happen this time though. Morgan’s motley crew doesn’t die wondering. Whether it is Jason Roy and Alex Hales in the first 10 overs or Morgan and Joe Root thereafter, the run-rate is rarely allowed to dip under run-a-ball, and then they have the explosive likes of Stokes, Woakes and Buttler to tee off towards the end-like they did most recently with England scoring 63 runs in the last five overs.
It’s not just their batting might that has changed the way opposition teams look at them, though. England have stopped the hunt for one-day specialists — it’s unlikely we’ll see the likes of Ian Austin, Matthew Fleming and Jade Dernbach again — and have instead focused more on the skills of their regular bowlers. Matthew Wood showed in that same ODI at the Ageas Bowl why England may have also gotten rid of that other albatross, death bowling, and are now a complete side, one that doesn’t mind being impolite and is desperate for a maiden ODI title.