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June 6, 2013
You could understand why Ashley Giles was smiling. After a testing week, he had just seen his England ODI side score 11 more in the last four overs against New Zealand than Australia managed in their entire innings against India. With England and Australia due to open their Champions Trophy campaigns against one another at Edgbaston on Saturday, such statistics were bound to raise spirits.
But there is no escaping the fact that the ODI series against New Zealand was an unsettling experience for England's limited-overs coach. Not only did England lose their proud unbeaten record at home - this was their first ODI series defeat in England and Wales since Australia beat them in 2009 - but their tried and tested method was found wanting and fitness worries further clouded their preparations.
The theory was so seductive. In English conditions and with two new balls, it was presumed that England's method of building a solid foundation when they batted and accelerating in the dying overs would prove beneficial. It was also presumed that their bowlers would find enough movement in the air or off the pitch to trouble opposition batsmen.
The evidence to date suggests that those plans might not cover all eventualities. The progress of recent games suggests that the white ball offers the bowler little and that the pitches in the Champions Trophy are going to make them want to curl up in the foetal position and cry.
But Giles remains confident. For a start, he pointed out that England were never able to field their strongest XI against New Zealand, but he also pointed out that, partially through necessity, England were forced to explore their options and found that, in the likes of Ravi Bopara and James Tredwell, they had players who enable them to utilise a different method. Both men were originally expected to play only in case of emergency.
Perhaps more pertinently, though, he knows that Australia are in poor form and may well be without their captain and best player, Michael Clarke who is nursing a back injury.
"It's disappointing to have lost a series," Giles admitted. "We've let ourselves down in certain departments. There were different areas in the first two games where we disappointed and we've certainly not played our A game yet. But maybe we're saving that?
"It's always a good thing for us when Australia get bowled out for 65. I didn't chuckle when I saw the score, because I've got more respect for them than that. But you're pleased they don't get the practice they want and the boost in confidence they'd be looking for. So from a personal point of view you don't want them playing well.
"We want to go to Edgbaston and hope it's a dull game. We could do with one of them. But they're tough opposition, they'll be well prepared and we've got to make sure we are as well. If Clarke is missing it's annoying for him and Australia but it would be good for us."
While the tactic of playing five specialist bowlers did not work in the first two games against New Zealand, it is worth remembering that England were never able to select their first choice five. If James Anderson, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann are all fit, they may well be in the side against Australia on Saturday. The only likely variation is the selection of Bopara ahead of Bresnan.
|While the tactic of playing five specialist bowlers did not work in the first two games against New Zealand, it is worth remembering that England were never able to select their first choice five|
But this version of the Champions Trophy is only to be played at three venues. And with the demands of television meaning that only pitches in the centre of squares can be utilised, it will not be long before the surfaces wear and the spinners become more important. England could, according to Giles, select two specialist spinners and utilise Joe Root's increasingly useful offspin, too.
"We've got options," Giles said. "I'm not going to say which way we're going, but when we put the squad together we did think of those options. I wouldn't rule out at some point that both spinners could play together on the right wickets. They're two of our best bowlers in one-day cricket."
Part of the issue, as far as Giles sees it, has simply been a lack of confidence from some of his squad. Chris Woakes, in particular, endured a chastening couple of games and, while he remains in the squad, looks unlikely to play much of a part in the competition.
"The key bit was getting confidence into them," he said. "They've looked a little edgy - you know the guys I'm talking about - but you do that when you're not playing the way you'd like to be playing. Saturday's game is huge and going into it with the confidence of winning was important. We have to attack that game and be confident going into that.
"Chris hasn't played as well as he can and he'd be the first to admit that. So we changed the balance of the side and Chris was one of the guys we left out. It's really disappointing for him but he's a big lad and he understands the reasoning. He's as good as gold and gets on with his job. It doesn't mean the door is closed: we've 15 in that squad and as we've seen in the space of a week that a lot can happen with injuries, niggles and form."
Giles was encouraged by the form and fitness of Finn and Broad, but admitted they would both require careful handling through the Champions Trophy and the Ashes. Both men recovered well from Wednesday and, as a result, Boyd Rankin has been released back to Warwickshire.
"The big bonus was having Broad and Finn back on the field and looking pretty good and healthy," Giles said. "We're going to need to manage all the quick bowlers over the summer. It's a big summer and a big winter. But they've come through the game well and they seem pretty healthy. But it's an ongoing process managing big lumps who bowl quickly. You've got to look after them.
"As things stand I'm pretty confident these guys are good. Finn's condition is one we've talked about and we've got to manage going forward and just look after him."
The performance of Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan may well have masked another disappointing England performance with the bat on Wednesday, but Giles insisted that the batting of Ian Bell and co. had provided the middle-order with the platform to express themselves.
"It was a much better performance," Giles said. "I guess all the talk will be about Jos's innings at the end, but in the build-up to that Bell's runs and Morgan's runs were really also very important. The way we batted was much cleaner and crisper and it was quite exciting at the end.
"What Jos needed was to do it once in 50-over cricket. It doesn't mean he's going to do it all the time but, in T20 cricket, once he crossed that hurdle once he looked a different player. I'm hoping that will happen again. I think playing an extra batter in Bopara might have given him a bit more confidence. It took a little bit of pressure off him and gave him more freedom.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that's the way we're going to go. But Jos has shown in T20 cricket he is built for coming in for five overs. He exceeded all our expectations on Wednesday so I'm really chuffed for him.
"There will be times when Morgan and Buttler get it wrong and we have to accept that. But they will also win us games. Call them X-factor players, call them hugely skilful, but they will win games. Going into this Champions Trophy, it is so important that they are playing with some of that passion and freedom. There are still bits we didn't get right but we're getting better now so it's positive news."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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