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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
June 2, 2014
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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