Pragmatic England defy critics
Rudyard Kipling almost certainly wasn't thinking about England's top-order when he wrote the lines "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you" but it did seem strangely fitting as they made unhurried progress against Australia.
You could almost feel the frustration around Edgbaston as Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott added 111 runs for England's second wicket in 22 overs. You could almost feel the crowd urging them to pick up the pace and play more aggressively. And you could hardly move at the interval between innings for someone wanting to tell you that the stand had left England 30 short of par and in danger of losing the game.
But in a match that featured only one other 50 partnership - an unbroken stand of 56 for England's seventh wicket - Bell and Trott had, once again, provided the foundations for victory. That the pair of them remained calm against some tight bowling, kept their heads and judged more accurately than the hordes urging them to accelerate what a winning total was on this pitch, played a huge part in this win.
England play, by and large, percentage cricket. They are not pretty. They are not exciting. While West Indies or Pakistan attack their opposition like tigers, England attack like a python, slowly squeezing the life out of matches. In some ways, they play the sort of cricket that the limited-overs game was invented to cut out. While marketing types sell the game on the basis flying stumps and flurries of sixes, England try to bowl dot balls and turn ones into twos. Few kids in Birmingham beg their parents for a chance to watch Trott nurdle one into the leg side.
But that is not England's concern. What matters to them is that they have a method they trust and understand. While other teams can thrash and heave, England will nudge and accumulate. While other teams attempt the killer punch, England pick up points and refuse to open themselves up to danger. They apply pressure and look to make fewer mistakes than their opposition. It is not a fashionable way to play limited-overs cricket, but it is England's way.
You might compare it to Wimbledon playing the long-ball game in order to compete with the top football English football sides. Their supporters will find beauty in the result if not the method.
They will be times when it proves an inadequate method. There will be times when an opposition batsman plays a brilliant match-winning innings and when an opposition bowler finds a way to unlock the England batting. It will happen. But it may not happen very often and it may not happen in this tournament.
It was, after all, a method that took them to the top of the ODI rankings last year. It took them to their record of 10 successive ODI victories. It is a method that really should have won over the critics by now. That it hasn't perhaps says more about the inflexibility of some in the media - particularly former players - than it does an inflexibility in England's methods.
The point that the critics fail to understand is that England are playing the hand that fate dealt them. They are not trying to play the hand they wish they were dealt. They are no longer trying to ape the methods of Australia or Sri Lanka or whoever the latest fashionable ODI side may be. They have recognised their key strength - technically correct batsmen - and embraced it. Without Kevin Pietersen they are a decent but limited ODI side, but rather than attempting to bat like Sanath Jayasuriya or Adam Gilchrist, they have accepted their strengths lie elsewhere. Nations need accountants as well as warriors.
Bell admitted that, at the halfway stage of the match, England were just a little disappointed by their total. He admitted that "at 35 overs we were looking at 300" but felt they fell short as "it was an extremely dry pitch and it was a lot easier to bat up front against the new ball. It got a lot harder to bat." In a perfect world, of course they would have liked to score more. But instead of being bowled out for 230 in an attempt to reach 300, they settled for 269. They settled for the better percentage.
Are there other players within the county game who might provide an alternative method? Of course there are. There is Ben Stokes, a vast talent, who may develop into an international class allrounder, there is Alex Hales, who has earned a place in the T20 side, and there is Jonny Bairstow. But Stokes and Hales both failed to cover themselves in glory on the Lions tour to Australia and Hales is also in a horrid run of form. Their time will come. If England's method proves inadequate in this event, it may come sooner rather than later.
It would be simplistic to suggest that England's method is solely reliant on their top three. In this game, the acceleration in their innings was provided by Ravi Bopara - on other occasions it will be Eoin Morgan or Jos Buttler - and their bowling was deeply impressive.
That is hugely encouraging for them. On a pitch offering traditional English-style bowlers little, they still found a way to trouble the Australia batsmen. James Anderson, in the style of Malcolm Marshall or Zaheer Khan, reacted to the flat surface by going up a gear and bowling with more pace than for some time. He successfully utilised the same tactic on a docile track during the Nagpur Test at the end of last year.
England also gained reverse swing that was all but absent for the Australia seamers. There will be those who claim there is something untoward about this but, as was the case when the English used to complain about Pakistan bowlers, it is generally teams that cannot do it who moan.
Allied to their admirable accuracy - Anderson was especially impressive in that regard - the movement England gained allowed them to concentrate on bowling a good length and tight line. There was a noticeable absence of variation - the slower balls and slower ball bouncers - that marked their disappointing performances against New Zealand. Bell rated his bowlers' performance as "exceptional".
There was some bravery in England's selection, too. The decision to leave out Steven Finn, the No. 3-rated ODI bowler, left them reliant on Bopara and Joe Root to fulfil the role of fifth bowler. It showed a willingness to adapt. It showed flexibility.
But those are not the main strengths of this team. England's real strengths are calm under pressure, a knowledge of their role definition and a shared belief in their methods. They are not the most exciting qualities, but they form a powerful combination.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo