Old guard takes charge to herald new era
The thunderstorm which held up play for three hours at The Oval wouldn't have looked out of place in Colombo, but England's performance bore no resemblance to the fatigued 10-wicket loss in the World Cup quarter-final three months ago. It was vibrant, energetic, confident and aggressive. Yet this isn't actually a new era of one-day cricket for England because there are a few too many familiar faces on show for that to be true.
Even though only five of this side played in Colombo in March, there haven't been wholesale changes by the selectors. James Anderson, reigniting his one-day career with 4 for 18 which were his best figures since November 2009 against South Africa, and Jade Dernbach were both in the squad, while Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen would have played except for injury. Really, the only significant changes have been at the top of the order with Craig Kieswetter back and Alastair Cook as the new captain along with Samit Patel's recall. He was tellingly pushed aside by Tim Bresnan who had been back in squad for a single day.
Adding further weight to the theory that, rather than this being a new-look team, it's more the older version with a bit of touching-up was the performance of Anderson. It's a well-known story that, moments after England secured the Ashes in Sydney back in January, he curled up in the dressing room and fell into a deep sleep. Despite a three-week break at home he was never the same during the rest of the winter and cut a forlorn figure in the closing days of the World Cup. Although his Test place was never in danger there was talk that it may have brought down the curtain on his one-day career.
He couldn't have asked for a better haul of wickets as he removed Sri Lanka's senior trio, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. They were ideal conditions for Anderson with a heavy atmosphere conducive to swing but he made them count. "For two days it was lovely sunshine, then today it rained again," Dilshan said wryly. "It was helpful for the bowlers."
"It was a frustrating winter in the one-day form for the team and me personally," Anderson admitted. "I felt like I didn't perform to the standards I set myself. I was very disappointed and just glad to keep my place in the squad and get a place in the XI. Happily the wickets came for me but I thought we bowled brilliantly as a unit. Whatever it was during the winter I put it behind me at start of the season with Lancashire and then in the Test series. I've worked really hard, there are a lot of improvements I have to make on my one-day game and I've started on those things."
Anderson, though, didn't quite get everything he wished for. "He fully deserves his four wickets and was begging me for one more over to get his fifth," Cook said. "It was an outstanding performance up front but especially from Jimmy. To get their dangermen out early got us well ahead of the game."
Cook's satisfaction will come from the victory rather than his personal achievement. All that can be said about his 5 off three balls was that strike-rate wasn't an issue. Being caught down the leg side - even though bowlers will disagree - was unlucky. "That's the game, I shouldn't have edged it so fine," he said.
However, Cook will be very keen for this series not to be dominated by whether he makes runs or not, and for that to be the case he needs England to win. "It doesn't get much better than that, to win by such a big margin in a shorter game like that was a fantastic effort from the lads," he said. "But let's not get too carried with how the team did or how I did. It's just a good start. We've got to keep our feet on the floor."
There was a hint of irony that at 32-overs per side the contest was actually closer to the Twenty20 version that England made such a hash of on Saturday (there were even six Powerplay overs left) than the full one-day international they were due to play. When play resumed at 5pm after the thunderstorms England were left with 25 overs to build a total and the way they did it was far more encouraging than what was on display in Bristol.
A pitch with more pace enabled Kieswetter to hit through the line, Pietersen was sparky before pulling a long hop to midwicket and Eoin Morgan added the gloss as he so often does. Then, just as it appeared another England one-day innings would fizzle out, the fit-again Bresnan hit 23 off 14 balls as 210 turned into 230.
In his second coming as an international cricketer Kieswetter has promised a tighter technique and more selectiveness, but without losing any of the natural flair that attracted the selectors. An innings of 61 off 56 balls suggests he has found a good balance.
"He can hit the ball really hard and showed it here, that's why he's in the side and it's great for him to get back to scoring runs straight away," Cook said. "He's worked really hard, let's not get carried away with one innings but good things come when you put the hours in. That's why you do it."
That praise of Kieswetter was the second time Cook mentioned not getting carried away. He isn't the first England one-day captain to start, or resume, the job with victory. Paul Collingwood did it in 2007, Kevin Pietersen in 2008 and Andrew Strauss in 2009. None of those reigns ended happily. Cook knows he will have his fair share of tough days in the job and far tougher questions to answer.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo