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Are England flat track bullies?

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England_Cricket_flat_wicket_bully_ODITake a minute to absorb these facts before we commence our discussion.

- England have scored over 300 in 11 out of the last 14 ODIs they have batted first.
- They have scored above 300 at least once against every opposition they have played against since the 2015 World Cup
- In fact, in their first completed game since the 2015 World Cup, they smashed 408 against the Kiwis at Birmingham, a sign of things to come.

These are phenomenal numbers for any side, let alone one that looked lost in the world of One Day cricket two years back in the 2015 World Cup in Australia-New Zealand. The English went back to the drawing board, prioritised One Day cricket, threw conservatism out of the window, brought in some fresh faces and played a brand of cricket that awed fans, critics and opponents alike.

They were so good that two years later, they were the favourites going into the Champions Trophy which was being played at home. They kept their reputation intact by brushing aside Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia in the Group Stage. If the first performance (against Bangladesh) summed up their strength with the bat at the top of the order, the second one against the Kiwis showed their bowling strength. The third one against Aussies was a complete show with their batting depth coming to the fore.

Pitted against Pakistan in the semi-finals, England were expected to cruise through to the finals. But Pakistan, being Pakistan, turned up at Cardiff with a confidence and energy that overshadowed England's. Despite losing Mohammad Amir to injury, they bowled their heart out and had England on the mat at the half-way stage. Then a certain Fakhar Zaman blasted England’s hapless bowlers and before they knew it they were dumped out of the tournament.

So what hit England? Were they trumped by a determined unit on the day? Did the used pitch give Pakistan an edge, as Eoin Morgan stated in the post-match conference? Was England's renaissance a false dawn? Or are they mere flat track bullies? Let us look at this last one a little closer.

Scrutinizing England's batting

There is no doubting the fact that England have been supreme with the bat in the past few years. Joe Root emerged out of an Ashes nightmare against Mitchell Johnson to be one of the most feared batsman in World Cricket. Ben Stokes has gone from strength to strength and Eoin Morgan has proved beyond doubt that he is the right man to lead and has silenced his critics in the past few months with the bat.

Alex Hales has shown consistency with the bat in ODIs, unlike his short-lived Test career and Jason Roy, despite his poor run in the Champions Trophy, has been good at the top. The likes of Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow have grabbed whatever opportunities have come their way.

Yet, in Lord's, a few days before the Champions Trophy, the famed England top order came a cropper against Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell. They were reduced to 20/6 on a seaming wicket by the South African new ball bowlers. It was the only pitch that offered something for the bowlers in the three match series and England had no answer to it.

Roll back a few months and England struggled to chase down 226 set by West Indies at North Sound in a bilateral series. Granted, they won in the end, but it took a lot of work and their batsmen never came to terms with the slowness of the pitch. That something similar happened in Bangladesh a few months before that is no coincidence. Mehedi Hasan and co. rolled them over on a slow pitch. Despite all their heroics against India in the ODIs, they lost the series.

Against Pakistan in the semi final, on a used pitch that made the ball stop a bit, none of the England batsmen found their groove. Jonny Bairstow, who opened in place of Jason Roy, scratched his way to the 40s while Joe Root was far from convincing against the trio of spinners. He eventually nicked a short ball from Shadab Khan to the keeper, but one can firmly say that the pressure exerted by the spinners played more of a role in that dismissal than the delivery itself. Eoin Morgan looked more fluent, but eventually edged Hasan Ali behind while Stokes hung around for 64 balls without hitting a single boundary, so unlike him.

The Pakistani bowlers were tidy and sharp but England played into their hands by playing ugly with the bat. None of their batsmen showed the temperament and application required to make runs on such a wicket.

They were scrappy, edgy and deserved to lose. Does that mean they go back to the drawing board?

There is no doubting the fact that the England team has come a long way since the 2015 World Cup debacle. This unit is young, animated and in line with the modern day One Day Cricket standards. However, most of their big runs have come on pitches that call for boundaries every ball and they will need to step up their game a notch on slower surfaces.

That said, this renaissance is no false dawn and England cricket is going in the right direction in terms of ODI cricket. This failure before the 2019 World Cup will stand them in good stead when the bigger tournament comes home two years later.

 

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