England v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Edgbaston June 2, 2014

England face test of priorities

If England do win the ODI series against Sri Lanka, it may only serve to mask some of the issues they must resolve ahead of the World Cup

You could argue that, if England are to challenge at the World Cup, the best thing to happen to them would be to experience defeat in the final match of the ODI series against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston.

Were England to win the game, and with it a series that is currently tied 2-2, it might convince them that the make-up of their current side - with only four frontline bowlers and four steady batsmen at the top of the order - is adequate to serve them well in New Zealand and Australia. Indeed, victory might render it awkward to drop individuals ahead of the ODI series against India. It would be a feel-good win with a long-term hangover.

This was always going to be a transitional series for England. Coming to terms with life after Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and, in all probability, Jonathan Trott (who began his comeback in Warwickshire's 2nd XI on Monday) was bound to take time. A couple of other players, Stuart Broad and perhaps Ben Stokes, are also likely to feature in a World Cup squad when they have proved their full fitness.

As a result, England have chosen a team with a view to these early season English conditions. They have reasoned, understandably, that the benefit of winning this series will outweigh any negatives of failing to settle upon a specific XI for the World Cup.

So they have stocked their top four with good quality, traditional batsmen who can negate the movement offered by two new balls and build a solid platform before the middle-order leads an acceleration. And they have tried to plug the gaps in the bowling attack with a couple of batting allrounders who, in these conditions, can generally be relied upon to contribute 10 overs between them. In these conditions, it makes sense.

But will it work in Australia?

So far in this series, England's fifth bowlers - generally Joe Root and Ravi Bopara combined - have contributed 25.5 overs between them and taken one wicket for 149 runs. They are comfortably the most expensive of England's bowlers.

Away from early summer English pitches there is no reason to think they will fare any better. On the fast-scoring grounds anticipated in the World Cup, going in with a part-time fifth bowler is not only an obvious weakness in itself but it leaves the team exposed should one of the four frontline bowlers suffer a bad day or sustain an injury.

As England have found out so many times before - most notably in the World Cup final of 1979 - a side may get away with part-time bowlers in bowler-friendly conditions. But on good pitches, against good players, such a tactic will often prove damaging.

The choice of who to bat in the top four is equally perplexing for England. With Alastair Cook presumably assured of his place - and he might not be an automatic choice, at present, were he not captain - England's options at the top of the order are limited. With Peter Moores, the England coach, admitting that a total of around 300 might be considered par in the World Cup, the clamour to select Alex Hales will probably not be denied for long.

"In Australia, or on any good pitch around the world, you have to be able to score 300. It's the new par score. So we know we have haven't got long"
Peter Moores

Gary Ballance, Joe Root and perhaps even Ian Bell might be considered vulnerable later in the summer, though bringing in Hales only a few months ahead of the World Cup will give him less time to learn his trade at the top level.

"We've got some decisions to make," Moores said. "One is to make sure we've got enough depth in the bowling.

"It's a balance, because sometimes you don't want too much bowling. You don't want to take the responsibility away from those guys who've got to be able to front up and deliver, and know it's their role.

"But against strong sides, you need five strong bowlers as well as decent depth and ability to strike up front. They're the things you're going to need to win that World Cup."

One option at the World Cup would be to play another bowler - almost certainly Broad - ahead of one of the batsmen. But that would weaken the batting further and require even more of the likes of Jos Buttler, who is required to produce a miracle almost every time he bats. As on Saturday, sometimes even Buttler's miracles aren't enough.

"Our top four haven't quite got it right," Moores admitted. "Bell and Cook are a very experienced opening partnership and have done well in the Powerplays. It's important that we stay positive out of the Powerplay. In Australia, or on any good pitch around the world, you have to be able to score 300. It's the new par score. So we know we have haven't got long.

"To be fair to Root and Ballance they had to rebuild on Saturday from 10 for 2. They did the right thing and rebuilt and kept wickets in hand. Looking back we could have done with pushing things a little bit more.

"We're fortunate that there is a domestic 50-over competition this year in which we can have a look at the players like Alex Hales. Then we have to identify what is our best team for the back end of the summer, the winter and then that World Cup."

Whatever happens at Edgbaston on Tuesday, England are surely going to require some further rebuilding before that World Cup.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on June 3, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    I am not sure why people seem to regard Hales as the answer. His record in any format longer than T20 isn't encouraging. To my mind the problem is not with the batting specialists but with the fact that England doesn't have a couple of genuine allrounders worth their place in both disciplines. Maybe Stokes addresses one of those needs, if he can show he's back up to speed after losing form in the West Indies. It would be nice to have a slow bowler as the other allrounder; probably the two best out there are Moeen Ali and Samit Patel, both of whom are batting well this year but are pretty ordinary bowlers. For Australia both might be needed and Tredwell, who isn't well-suited to Australian conditions, is left out. That gives a line-up along these lines: Cook, Bell, Root/Ballance, Morgan, Buttler, Stokes, Ali, Patel, Jordan, Broad, Anderson. 6 bowlers (7 if Root gets the nod ahead of Ballance), 8 batsman plus Jordan and Broad who are a good 9 and 10.

    It would be worth a try.

  • kosala on June 3, 2014, 11:02 GMT

    I wonder when England cricket going to play for the next match they playing .Next series, rather complicate things with thinking of Ashes in 5,6 months time or world cup. Of course you need to plan ahead..but unless you win your next match, series , where you going to end up? Too much analysis and complicate things not very good.... better try to win each match, each series... And one thing, cry baby situation or picking things up on opposition team is not long term plan either .... Just platy good cricket and that will take care of everything ...

  • Owen on June 3, 2014, 10:53 GMT

    Agree with Mark Webb & jackiethepen - Bell is a class batsman. I go as far as to say that Bell's ability gives more weight to the argument of including Hales/Lumb as an attacking opener with Root at 3. Bell is versatile enough that if Hales/Lumb come off then Bell can play second fiddle and rotate the strike, but if they get out early then Root can anchor the innings and Bell can be the aggressor.

    I have left Cook out of this because he is not a good enough ODI batsman to warrant a place if he isn't captain, and he isn't a good enough captain. However there is 0% chance of him being dropped which makes this entire post redundant.

  • Samuel on June 3, 2014, 10:38 GMT

    @jackiethepen - He's handled the world's best with aplomb as a T20 opener so far and he's far more than just a glorified slogger. He deserves a chance.

  • Jackie on June 3, 2014, 9:53 GMT

    Hales is untested as yet, so to consider him as a saviour in ODIs is strange. He has plenty of time to play 50 over cricket for his county. If he can't manage county bowlers opening in that format then what hope has he against the world's best? Cook is suffering from lack of confidence due to fall out after the sacking of KP and the Ashes debacle. Either he returns to form or he doesn't. If not then he has to drop himself. Our bowling attack is weak and certainly not up to international standard. So we have a long way to go. Our batting is in much better shape. It is still early days to decide whether Root or Ballance can adapt. As for Bell he is able to steady the ship or advance the innings. He is a world class batsman. He has concentrated recently on improving his SR. He could bat at 3 but two new balls are tricky wherever the games are played. In Australia AND New Zealand by the way for the WC. We're not ready for the WC due to loss of senior players and world class spinner.

  • Rue on June 3, 2014, 9:37 GMT

    I agree with George, if a loss is the only way England will change their methods then it will be a good thing in the long run. I'm fed up of hearing about England's record at home, they never seem to mention England's appalling ODI record overseas. Cook should not be protected just because he is captain.

  • Dummy4 on June 3, 2014, 9:00 GMT

    Again, I find George Dobell's premises and conclusions to be based in the negative, but his claim that England losing to Sri Lanka in this current 1 day series would be better doesn't hold much water and shows a particularly depressing characteristic of the British sports supporter: That a win is somehow bad and a loss is somehow good. Nonsense.

    First, a win for England would be good for them and for English supporters. You play the team in front of you and in the conditions how they are. You don't play like you're trying to win in the heat of Australia when you're in a damp early English one. A win in this series will do England good in terms of morale and going forwards. Then he worries that a win here will be the blueprint for the World Cup whereas Moores has said the tactics and set up will definitely change so George has answered his own question. Stop worrying George!

  • R on June 3, 2014, 8:49 GMT

    ''Looking back we could have done with pushing things a little bit more'' Twas ever thus…! It is now even the mantra of the commentators that the middle order are always left with too much to do. SD mentions Cook may noy be assured of his place, what about Morgan? And Ian Dot Ball? Ballance is serially out mid innings as is Bopara who's bowling is also a liability… I just cannot see any optimism with this current bunch of morgan, bopara, bell at all, they have been around long enough and not won anything so 1/ why will they win a wc now, esp on fast scoring Oz pitches? and 2/ so why keep them?

  • John on June 3, 2014, 8:25 GMT

    Why is Tredwell ALWAYS Mentioned?? +

    HALES | COOK | BELL | Morgan | Ali | Stokes | Butler | M Jordan | Broad | Anderson | Briggs

  • Dummy4 on June 3, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    Vince would all some urgency in the top 4, it's about time he was tried.

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