England v Australia, Champions Trophy, Group A, Edgbaston

Pragmatic England defy critics

The century stand between Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott may not have had the crowd swooning but England know their strengths and they played to them admirably once again

George Dobell at Edgbaston

June 8, 2013

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Ian Bell drives down the ground, England v Australia, Champions Trophy, Group A, Edgbaston, June 8, 2013
Ian Bell fell short of a century but his innings provided the platform for England's match-winning total © AFP
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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.

Bailey praises England bowlers

  • Australia captain George Bailey credited England's ability to gain reverse swing as one of the key differences between the sides. "We were very surprised by how quickly England gained reverse swing," he said. "It's a good skill. It went from swinging conventionally to reverse swinging within an over or two. No doubt they worked on it a bit; they bowled cross-seam and bowling some spin early played a part. They are highly skilled and it's something we need to look at and exploit. It made their bowling plans so simple for the quicks once it started reversing: they could just hit a good length throughout the entire innings.
  • "England didn't bowl many bad balls. They were very disciplined and made it hard for us. They are a very experienced bowling line-up and there was nothing there we hadn't seen before. They just executed their skills very well. They exploited the wearing nature of the pitch very well.
  • "James Anderson is so skilful. He has the record he has because of the skills he has. We were expecting him to reverse it, but he gave us nothing on the pads and nothing to cut. He's so accurate. It's testament to the bowler he is and how important he is to England."

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JG2704 on (June 11, 2013, 9:11 GMT)

@ TheGuruji on (June 8, 2013, 20:49 GMT) I don't think many are saying Eng are awesome but if you go through their performances since the start of 2012 , I believe (besides the NZ series) Eng have lost one series away in India 3-2 - so by the same token (statistically) does one series defeat suddenly make Eng as bad as folk like you make them out to be?

@sensible-indian-fan on (June 9, 2013, 7:46 GMT) I'd say both NZ and SL are a big threat

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (June 10, 2013, 11:33 GMT)

@RodStark, in limited overs you need at least 2 of the players coming in at (5-8) to 'come off ' with at least run a ball or better 30/40+ scores, and providing the top order (1-4) have but in a solid base.

The problems occur when the above 2 dont come together such that the lower middle order come in too soon (pre 30 overs) or dont fire.

Posted by Jagger on (June 10, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

Wow. Malcolm Marshall and James Anderson + Zaheer Khan in the same sentence... Obviously didn't see 1984 Malcolm Marshall in Australia and 2003 Zaheer Khan in the World Cup Final. Marshall returned an average of 14.58 from 70 overs in the 1983 World Cup. If Anderson and Khan have ever returned figures within a bull's roar of that mark, I'll go he.

Posted by Shan156 on (June 10, 2013, 4:49 GMT)

@5wombats, Thanks mate. I know that whatever Eng. achieve won't impress these 'fans' and none of our players would ever be considered good enough. I have no interest in convincing these fans either. It is impossible to awaken someone who is pretending to be asleep. But, it is important that we quote facts time and again. Fact is, we have a decent ODI record in the recent past. In fact, we have a much better record than some of the much vaunted teams. Yet, we are considered a poor ODI team.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (June 10, 2013, 3:17 GMT)

@RodStark on (June 9, 2013, 17:59 GMT), I think that Bopara is a bit like Mitchell Johnson in that they don't really look the goods in Test cricket but both have still maintained a good record in limited-overs cricket. We all like to correlate Test and limited-overs performances to a degree but Bopara is an example of someone who definitely shouldn't be anywhere near the Test side but deserves his place in the limited-overs squad based on his record. I guess one concern with his inclusion in the CT squad is that he hasn't really been in great form domestically this seaon, although I'm not sure off his complete output. He certainly did an excellent job in this game though, and his bowling is very important, given that England have so few batsmen who bowl.

Posted by 5wombats on (June 9, 2013, 18:49 GMT)

@Shan156 - as ever my friend you hit the nail right on the head with all of your rebuttals against the snipers. But as you have pointed out to myself and many others; it's no good quoting facts; "We have defeated SA, Pak, WI, NZ, and SL away in our last bilateral series". None of that counts. Even if England go on to win this tournament, beating India in the final we will be told - Ah but this doesn't count because this isn't the world cup, or, but this doesn't count because it is in England. Why not just say; every time England win any game or series anywhere, it doesn't count because they are England?

Posted by RodStark on (June 9, 2013, 17:59 GMT)

It's not a bad plan, and it's the best aavailable based on the players England have. It would be ridiculous to replace a good accumulator with a bad batsman just because he has "flair". Things will probably speed up a bit when KP gets back, but what this method assures is that at least we're unlikely to get bowled out for a completely undefendable total even if the late acceleration doesn't come off.

This game has changed my mind about Bopara. Combined with Root he can be an inexpensive fifth bowler, and, as we saw today, England need more than Morgan and Buttler for the late innings assault. True Bopara and Bresnan weren't as fast, but they still provided decent depth during the late innings slog. You can't expect Morgan and Buttler to come off every time, and if they don't you need capable and reasonably fast batters at 7 and 8.

Posted by CrickFan82 on (June 9, 2013, 13:56 GMT)

James Anderson is bowling really well, great to watch him bowl. England are still the favorites but i think they they are missing that match winning batsman on top of the order like KP though they have technically strong batsman like Bell, Cook, Trot, Root. My prediction on top four teams England, India, West Indies, New zealand Finals: India vs New Zealand

Posted by Jaffa79 on (June 9, 2013, 13:37 GMT)

This recent defeat shows a lot about where the Aussies are at: nervous, insecure batting, no confidence in their spin department (on a very dry surface) and a distinct lack of Aussie aggression in the field. Of course there are many players from both sides to come in but it was clear to see that the Aussies know themselves that they could be up against it this summer. Bringing back Rogers and Haddin and the will they/won't they farce over Ponting coming back along with rushing through the citizenship of a random 30 something spinner with little experience or much of a record reeks of desperation. Headless chickens!

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