England’s ODI batting line-up is without doubt the most intimidating in the world. The consistency and hitting range of England’s batsmen all the way down to number eight make them the deserved favourites for the 50-over crown at home.
The focus of the cricket world, understandably, is on the numbers England’s batsmen have stacked up. Pakistan became the first team in ODI history to score more than 340 in three consecutive innings during their recent clash against the Englishmen. Eoin Morgan’s men went and became the first team to do it in four matches in a row, sweeping the home series 4-0.
If we look at the last two years, the stats are incredible. The top two scores – 481-6 and 418-6 – are both by England and they have the most 340-plus scores – 10 – in that period.
The pitches in England have turned out to be especially flat and that has meant cruel days in the field for bowlers and fielders. England’s batsmen, however, have been better than everyone else in sustaining the tempo across 50 overs.
But as incredible as England’s batting has been, their bowling has been a cause of some concern with selectors realising that conceding 340 or more in every other game is not ideal.
While England have made 340 or more 10 times in the last two years, they have also conceded that many eight times. It’s therefore understandable why the England board expedited the eligibility of quick Jofra Archer to wear England colours.
Even so, some England bowlers have held their own amidst all the carnage.
Seamer Chris Woakes and leg-spinner Adil Rashid don’t get as much attention as the likes of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow do; it’s a batsman’s game after all. But their performances in ODIs in the last two years has been as commendable.
Rashid is the third-highest wicket taker in the last two years with 71 scalps from 45 matches at an economy of 5.59. All-rounder Woakes has 41 wickets from 27 matches at an economy of 5.72. And yes, both bowlers played in the unforgiving series in the West Indies and at home against Pakistan this year where scores of 350 or more stopped becoming news.
While Rashid’s success can be attributed, to an extent, to the general success enjoyed by wrist spinners – the top four wicket-takers in the last 24 months are ‘wristies’, the case of Woakes is noteworthy as he does not possess extreme pace nor is he the best swinger of the ball.
But even so, in the last two ODIs against Pakistan, the right-arm seamer finished with figures of 4-67 and 5-54 as Pakistan made 358 and 297 respectively. For a fast medium seamer to end up with those figures is as great an achievement as a 70-ball 100 on those ‘highway’ pitches.
Since the 2015 World Cup, as England’s batsmen piled on the runs, Woakes’ economy rate has came down each year – 5.35 in 2016, 5.15 in 2017 and 5.11 in 2018. His economy in eight ODIs this year is 6.9 for 13 wickets – figures spoiled by one game in the West Indies where he went for 91.
Despite battling long-standing knee problems, Woakes has put up numbers that are as noteworthy as those of England’s batsmen. And if England are to go deep in the World Cup, the bowling form and fitness of the Warwickshire seamer might just be the most important factor.
Chris Woakes expects plenty of England players to be waiting nervously by the phone as decision day over the final World Cup squad draws to a close.
National selector Ed Smith will unveil the final 15 at Lord’s on Tuesday and, while Woakes removed any fraction of doubt about his place in the pecking order with a decisive five-wicket haul against Pakistan at Headingley, somebody is going to be disappointed.
David Willey looks most vulnerable, the left-armer likely to pay the price for Jofra Archer’s emergence having been named in the preliminary squad last month, but there is another tough call to make as well.
Joe Denly also featured in the provisional party and against Pakistan but has not quite nailed down his utility role as versatile batsman and back-up spin option. Despite not featuring in any squads this summer, Hampshire’s Liam Dawson is a more reliable bowler and could be a late draft.
“Everyone will be looking at their phones,” said Woakes after propelling the team to a 54-run win and 4-0 series sweep in Leeds.
“Everyone will be wary of that phone call. Even if you feel like you’ve got a good chance to being in the squad, until you hear it from selectors’ mouths, it’s not quite set in stone.
“As a player you’re still probably a little bit on edge, particularly with this 16 and 17 players because everyone has performed at some point over the series.
“In the last couple of years people have put in strong performances. It’s a tricky decision for selectors and I’m glad I’m not having to make that decision, but it has to be done I suppose. It’s certainly driven us forward in this series.”
Speaking after the fifth one-day international, which saw England set a new ground record of 351 for nine before dismissing the tourists for 297, captain Eoin Morgan admitted he was still unsure about who would miss out.
With six wins from six completed games thus far this summer, an expanded group has served the Dubliner consistently well and he will not be looking forward to thinning out the ranks.
Willey perhaps needed to do more than take one for 55 in his last nine-over audition but he does have a unique selling point as the only left-arm seamer in the squad. Denly and Dawson are essentially different answers to the same question too, complicating the deliberations.
“No, I don’t know the 15,” said Morgan.
“Every one of these guys should be proud of what we’ve achieved so far, the continuous improvement of performances throughout makes the selection meeting extremely difficult.
“But every single member of the 17-man squad here will play some role (at the tournament), due to the nature of injuries and illness and call-ups.”
Pakistan are also facing questions over the eventual make-up of their 15, having exceeded expectations with the bat but regressed with the ball and in the field.
Mohammad Amir and Shadab Khan are likely to be called after illnesses, but coach Mickey Arthur was keeping his cards close.
“Amir trained yesterday for the first time – the first time he was allowed to. If selected he’d be ready to go, but in in terms of selection we’ll talk tomorrow and finalise our squad,” he said.
“I take huge positives from this series. I thought our batting has gone to another level. Coming to England people said we were a 280 team and we dispelled that.
“But our bowling has been average at best and our fielding has been average at best.”
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Roy struck a superb 114 as England sealed the one-day series 3-0 with a game to spare, fearlessly breaking the back of a 341-run chase.
It was the Surrey opener’s eighth international century but possibly the least expected, after family matters took priority on the eve of the match.
Roy rejoined two-month old Everly at hospital after proceedings were wrapped up at Trent Bridge and, while the matter is not thought to be serious, his focus was admirable in trying circumstances.
“It was a very emotional hundred. I didn’t see it coming,” he told Test Match Special after England’s three-wicket win.
“I had a bit of a rough morning so this one is a special one for me and my family. It was my little one. We had to take her to hospital at 1:30 in the morning. I stayed there until 8:30am, came back for a couple of hours sleep and got to the ground just before warm-up and cracked on.”
Roy’s case might be exceptional but England are making a happy habit of emerging triumphant whatever the situation.
After high-scoring wins in Southampton and Bristol, England were again given plenty to do, with Pakistan posting 340 for seven. Roy’s boundary-strewn effort might gave the perfect platform but a wobble of four wickets in 17 balls left the contest hanging in the balance.
The required rate climbed but Ben Stokes emerged as the match-winner, hitting an undefeated 71 to see things through at the business end.
England’s stand-in captain Jos Buttler said: “For Ben to soak up that pressure, come through it and be not out at the end will give him lots of confidence. It was great to see him play in that fashion.
“He played fantastically well, we’d played great cricket in the whole game other than four poor overs with some soft dismissals.
“It’s great to watch Jason go about his work too. He’s been in great form and he was desperate to go on to his hundred. To watch him in full flow is exciting.”
Tom Curran also earned a nod from the skipper, showing off the all-round value that is likely to see him into the 15-man World Cup squad next week.
Curran took four for 75 with the ball, including centurion Babar Azam, and made 31 in an important stand with Stokes.
The Surrey all-rounder might have been run out on six had the fielding side or the third umpire correctly spotted that a second direct hit in the same passage of play had dislodged the one remaining bail as he scrambled to make his ground.
“With the bat, with the ball, I love his character. He just wants to be involved in the game, he had a fantastic day,” added Buttler.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed he did not appeal for the Curran run out but was as frustrated with some costly fielding errors as he was with that missed opportunity.
“We had enough runs on the board and if we field well we win this game,” he said.
“The coach told me (about the run out). I thought both bails had come out, I hope that if the third umpire seen it on the television he would tell the umpires as well.”