Champions Trophy 2013 June 6, 2013

England blueprint about to be tested

Overview


It has been a long time since England have gone into a global ODI event with realistic hopes of challenging. Apart from the 2004 Champions Trophy, when they were thwarted by a remarkable fightback from West Indies in the final, you have to go back to the 1992 World Cup for the last time they have entered an event with such genuine expectations of success.

They may never have a better chance, either. The changes to ODI regulations - particularly the use of two new balls - and home advantage are substantial positives for an England side boasting more players with traditional cricket skills than the explosive match turners sometimes associated with modern limited-overs cricket. England's top-order of Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott may not hit as many sixes as other sides, but they may also bat a lot longer, seeing off the new balls at their most potent and providing a solid platform for those who follow.

The absence of Kevin Pietersen with a knee injury is a substantial loss. Without him, there is a large onus on Eoin Morgan and, to a lesser extent, the two 22-year-olds, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, to provide impetus to innings that are expected to enjoy solid starts but may well require acceleration. The lack of experience of Root and Buttler - they have played 11 and nine ODIs respectively - is one area of concern but, bearing in mind that this event is seen more as a marker on the road to the World Cup than a destination in itself, their early elevation may prove to be the making of them. Neither will be overawed.

The bowling attack is likely to prove almost identical to the Test side. Certainly the four senior bowlers - James Anderson, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann - form an impressive unit, with the seam of Tim Bresnan and the spin of James Tredwell the most likely to make up the final place depending on conditions. The option of selecting Ravi Bopara, an underrated bowler but seemingly a fading force as a batsman, and Chris Woakes, who can change games with the bat but who still looks more potent with the red ball, should probably be considered Plan B.

The appointment of Ashley Giles as England's limited-overs coach may prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw. Giles' elevation means England have a coach with the time to plan and prepare in detail without the distraction of Test series. No longer is limited-overs cricket seen as the lesser game in England and no longer are players selected for the ODI side as a halfway house on the road to Test cricket. Continuity of selection, a policy for so long applied only to Test cricket, has allowed this England side to develop greater role awareness and confidence and their form in England over recent years justifies their position as one of the pre-tournament favourites.

Despite the sobering affects of defeat to New Zealand, anything less than a semi-final appearance would be considered a bitter disappointment.

Key player


Since the start of 2012, Jonathan Trott has been involved in 20 of the 26 ODIs that England have played. England have lost only four of those 20 games and, though they have been bowled out three times, they have never been bowled out for under 200. In the six games without him, England have been beaten four times and bowled out for under 200 on three occasions. Trott's ODI batting average (52.28) is 20% higher than anyone to have represented England in more than 20 ODIs. He will never win over those critics who feel he bats too slowly for the modern limited-overs game but the records show that his will be the wicket the opposition most desires.

Surprise package


It may sound odd to suggest that a man with a batting average of 16.83 can be considered a potential match-winner with the bat. But Jos Buttler, despite his youth, his inexperience and his relatively modest first-class record, is an extravagantly talented batsman with the power and range of strokes to damage any bowling attack. There may be moments, against the very best bowling, when his improvisation gets him into trouble but, so capable of unorthodoxy is he, that even the best could be discombobulated. Only Morgan, of his England team-mates, possesses the same ability to change a game with the bat in so few deliveries.

His keeping remains a work in progress - he is second choice in Somerset's County Championship side - and there may be times, in helpful bowling conditions, when he struggles with the gloves. But England believe he has much scope in that department and he appears to have the temperament to cope with the inevitable setbacks he will encounter.

Weakness


After years of persisting with 'bits and pieces' allrounders, England have embraced a policy of specialism. They will generally field a team which differs only in two or three positions - that of the keeper, Buttler, an extra bowler in Tim Bresnan and a limited-overs specialist batsman in Eoin Morgan - from their Test side. It is a policy which, in English conditions in particular, makes a great deal of sense.

But their greatest strength may also be their greatest weakness. There is little margin for error in England's strategy. While the likes of Root and Trott could be pressed into service as support bowlers, England will generally expect their five main bowlers to deliver 10 over spells. If one of them experiences an off-day or is injured, England will be over-reliant on part-timers. Similarly, if the top-order batting is knocked over quickly, an inexperienced middle-order may be exposed before they are ready.

Champions Trophy history


Reached the final on home soil in 2004 only to be robbed by a ninth-wicket partnership of 71 by Courtney Brown and Ian Bradshaw that gave West Indies the titles. Beyond that, and a semi-final appearance at the last tournament when they lost by nine wickets to Australia, there has not been much for England to write home about.

Recent form


Good, despite the 2-1 defeat to New Zealand, which dropped them to fourth in the ODI rankings. England were No. 1 - albeit fairly briefly - in 2012 and enjoyed the longest run of successive victories (10) in their history between February and July. New Zealand ended England's sequence of eight ODI series unbeaten at home - before that, you had to go back to 2009, against Australia, to find a loss, though South Africa drew in 2012 - but, since the start of 2010, England have won 23 and lost only 11 of the 37 ODIs they have played at home.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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