England have been playing one-day international cricket since 1971. The Three Lions lost the first-ever ODI in history to arch-rivals Australia in Melbourne. That five-wicket loss set the tone for what was to come.
From there to mid-2015, their 1992 World Cup final appearance against Pakistan aside, 50-over competition had been the Achilles heel of English Cricket. Those heels dragged along for too long, leaving a trail of failures.
England chopped, changed and searched for answers to get better, but other ODI nations progressed to extend that withering trail.
Winding the clock back doesn’t bring to the fore resplendent memories for England fans but it’s worth reminding that for all the disappointments that were easier to shrug off, three years and one day ago to be precise, the nation’s cricket lovers experienced what it felt like to hit rock bottom. That came when Bangladesh paceman Rubel Hossain had just sent James Anderson’s stumps flying into the Adelaide abyss and the Tigers celebrated a famous 15-run victory in the 2015 World Cup, sending Eoin Morgan’s men crashing out in the group stages.
At that moment, English Cricket was on its knees but sometimes in life those moments – although they may not feel like that at the time – shape one’s destiny. The barometer back then was so low that it gave England the chance to draw a line under the past and get to grips with the blood and thunder attacking style of the modern game.
It’s taken three years to change the atmospheric pressure on that same barometer as a result of steady building under Morgan and head coach Trevor Bayliss, but it’s now England who are pressuring those around them to keep pace ahead of the 2019 World Cup on their own patch.
Saturday’s victory over New Zealand at the Hagley Oval sealed a 3-2 series success, England’s sixth on the bounce and ninth out of their past 10 ODI assignments. Time will fly until next May, and if England can sustain this level of form, in home conditions, hopes of a maiden 50-over World Cup triumph should spring eternal.
South Africa and India are among those who will provide strong challenges, whereas Pakistan cannot be ruled out given their ability to conjure up brilliance out of nothing and spoil a party – much like they did in the summer of 2016 when they knocked out Champions Trophy favourites England, in their own backyard, en-route to that famous final win against India at the Oval.
Too often optimism can lead to a false dawn but this feels different, England have done a lot of the ground work and talking already. Their side is made up of cricketers who back themselves to perform and deliver in those pressure moments, on the biggest stages. Jonny Bairstow, a case in point. Two back-to-back centuries, with his knock of 104 from 58 balls being the third-fastest ton by an Englishman, cementing his opener spot.
He is just one man in a line-up of settled cricketers who all seem clear with their role in the side, whether with bat and ball, and how they bring that together to the fore as a cohesive unit. Having a man with the star quality of Ben Stokes to call upon is of course a huge thing too.
Given the frenetic pace of the cricketing calendar things can unravel and change quickly but that shouldn’t worry England in the slightest as they are exactly where they want to be as an ODI force ahead of further challenges to come against Australia and India at home this summer. Big strides are being made towards the end goal.
Jonny Bairstow continued his imperious form with the fastest century by an England opener to seal a sixth successive one-day international series win with a seven-wicket trouncing of New Zealand.
Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid shared six wickets to restrict the hosts to an under-par 223 all out after Eoin Morgan won the toss in his 200th ODI.
Then Bairstow (104) hit six sixes and nine fours in his 58-ball century, the third-fastest by any Englishman, as his opening stand of 155 with Alex Hales (61) made memorably short work of New Zealand in this showdown decider which fell flat for most of a sell-out crowd at Hagley Oval.
England had 17.2 overs to spare as they extended a series-winning sequence which dates back almost 12 months exactly to a 3-0 success in the West Indies.
Bairstow was intent on completing the job in style, following his century in Dunedin three days ago with another brutal innings – including 22 off one over from leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
Hales, back in place of the injured Jason Roy for his first match of the series and since he announced his white-ball-only future, was no slouch either and passed 2,000 ODI runs for his trouble.
Morgan’s men have won nine of their last 10 50-over series as they build towards a home World Cup next year.
Their latest, 3-2 against opponents who pushed them hard in a succession of tight finishes elsewhere, was never in any doubt from the moment New Zealand began fluffing their lines against some exemplary new-ball bowling from Woakes and Mark Wood.
Mitchell Santner (67) continued his prolific series, and Henry Nicholls (55) hit form too, in a seventh-wicket stand of 84 – but ultimately they managed only to delay the inevitable.
New Zealand lost Colin Munro in the first over to Woakes (three for 32), for a second-ball duck in the first over when he mistimed an attempted leg-side flick to loop an easy catch for Jos Buttler.
Kane Williamson got an inside-edge on to his stumps when Wood went wide on the crease – and then England’s spinners took over, bowling in tandem and each straight through their 10 overs.
Rashid (three for 42) had Tom Latham clipping to midwicket and foiled Martin Guptill’s attempt to anchor a faltering innings too when the opener poked a drive to cover three short of his 50.
YEESSSS! We win the series 3️⃣-2️⃣!! 🙌🏴
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) March 10, 2018
Mark Chapman, back in place of injured lynchpin Ross Taylor, failed to score before trying to dab rather than defend a length ball from Moeen Ali – and paid with the loss of his off-bail.
With Colin de Grandhomme soon gone too, holing out off Rashid, at 93 for six Santner and Nicholls were the last hope of a telling partnership.
They delivered all that could reasonably be expected, putting on 84, Nicholls with a 73-ball half-century on his home ground and Santner capping his remarkable series from number eight with a new career-best.
Santner finished with 216 runs in four innings – at an average of 108 – before he fell to the first of two outstanding outfield catches in the 49th over off Woakes.
In a match which did not live up to its billing as a fitting tussle for a hard-fought series, Bairstow at least ensured a spectacle as he dominated the ruthless chase until he had to go after dislodging his own stumps as he made room to try to dispatch another boundary off Trent Boult.
It made precious little difference, despite the late departures of Hales and Morgan too before Ben Stokes hit a huge six off Sodhi for the winning runs.
While the all-rounder waited for almost four months to hear if he would be charged after being arrested following a late-night altercation outside a Bristol nightclub last September, he was unable to join England’s campaign in Australia.
In his absence, Anderson took over as Root’s deputy as the urn was lost 4-0.
Stokes returned for the one-day international series against New Zealand, which culminates in Saturday’s decider in his native Christchurch, only after pleading not-guilty to affray at Bristol Magistrates Court last month.
England must therefore decide soon if he regains the vice-captaincy for two matches against the Kiwis beginning in Auckland on March 22.
Asked if it will be a tricky call, Bayliss said: “Yes and no.
“He was named as vice-captain because of his knowledge of the game and what he means to the team.
“But I thought Jimmy Anderson did a pretty good job during that Ashes series.”
Bayliss was equivocal over whether the decision will be his and Root’s, or may have to be validated by England and Wales cricket Board director Andrew Strauss and chief executive Tom Harrison.
“I haven’t spoken to Strauss and Tom about it,” he said. “But Joe and I would have a chat about it first.”
Stokes, meanwhile, has returned in encouraging form – no surprise to Bayliss that he is not distracted by off-the-field events.
“There are always guys who are able to put those things aside and get stuck back into it,” he said. “I think we have seen over these games that he has (done that).”
There would have been a more exaggerated crowd reaction had he returned mid-Ashes.
“It’s probably been a bit easier for him to sneak back in (here),” added Australian Bayliss.
“But with Ben, I don’t think it would have made any difference. It might have encouraged him even more to do well.”
While Stokes is back in all formats – albeit with a court case in his diary too over the coming months – two other white-ball regulars will not be playing any Test cricket.
“It’s totally up to them,” he said, before voicing qualms over whether the switch will pay off.
“I said to [Hales] when it came out that, not playing red-ball cricket, I hope that doesn’t affect him.
“If he plays red-ball cricket, you get a quantity of balls [to hit in the middle], and that helps with any form of the game.
“He had to weigh that up with going away and having the extra time to work on his white-ball skills.
“Only time will tell. If it doesn’t work, I hope he is able to make a decision to come back into red-ball cricket.”
Bayliss will be disappointed if other England players follow Hales and Rashid, but understands why they may.
“It is a big decision – basically taking themselves out of the running for Test cricket.
“Certainly, I’d be disappointed, but I do understand how those players come to those decisions – especially the guys who are eligible for all three forms of the game.
“The amount of cricket we have played, it’s becoming almost impossible to play all those games.”