England v South Africa, Champions Trophy, semi-final, The Oval June 18, 2013

England seek to answer critics again

They know their approach to the format is not universally appreciated but victory over a strong South Africa will put England into the final

In the run-up to the Champions Trophy, Jonathan Trott had a cunning plan. Inspired by Shane Warne's regular revelations that he had invented a 'new delivery', Trott was keen for the world to know that he had invented a new shot.

"Tell them I've been working on it for ages and I think I've got it right now," he said. "I'm ready to unveil it."

And what was the shot?

"It's a block. It's a new block. Tell them I've found a new way to block the hall-volley and full-toss. They'll like that."

While Trott was playfully making light of his reputation as an unhurried batsman, there was, perhaps, a hint of irritation behind his words. He, like several of his team-mates, could be forgiven for feeling unappreciated of late.

It's not hard to see why. A few weeks ago, England won a Test in ten sessions only to see their tactics questioned. Then their bowlers produced a performance of great skill to overwhelm Australia and they were accused of ball-tampering. And all the while, the top three in ODI cricket - a top three that helped them to a record 10 successive ODI victories and No. 1 in the rankings last year - are talked about in terms that suggest they are England's greatest weakness. They know that, even if they win the Ashes, people will diminish the achievement as Australia will be dismissed as no-hopers. England can win all the games they like; there are some critics that will never be won over.

Some of the criticism is fair; some is ludicrous. The ball-tampering allegations, for example, have developed without a shred of evidence. Despite the plethora and quality of cameras, there are no incriminating pictures, no damning TV footage and no allegation or report from the umpires. It is the mentality of the lynch mob that sustains such accusations.

Trott divides opinions more than most. He has a batting average (51.71) more than 20% higher than any man to have batted in 20 innings for England and a strike-rate (76.52) very similar to established 'greats' such as Kumar Sangaakkara (who has a batting average of 39.13 and a strike-rate of 75.95), Mahela Jayawardene (33.40 and 78.43) and Michael Clarke (44.69 and 78.23). Few argue that they are the problem in their respective teams.

But perhaps there is a grain of truth in some criticism. It is said, for example, that Trott is the perfect man when chasing 270, but limited when chasing 350. And it is true. But it is surely worth remembering that no England side has ever chased anywhere near 350 to win an ODI. They have not even managed 310 to win. To blame Trott for something that has never been done seems to lack logic.

The killer statistic is this, though: Trott wins games for England. They have lost only five of the 23 ODIs in which Trott has played since the start of 2012 while, in the six games without him, England have been beaten four times and bowled out for under 200 on three occasions. Trott is not perfect, of course, but if there is a player in county cricket who can beat that record - Marcus Trescothick or Kevin Pietersen apart - he has not made himself obvious.

And that is the key point. For while England may not have the best side or the best method of all the teams left in the Champions Trophy, they can argue with some evidence that they have made the best of the options they have at their disposal.

"I think the top order have done their job pretty well so far. We've built good, solid platforms to go on and get big scores"
England captain Alastair Cook

While there are several viable alternatives in county cricket - the likes of James Taylor, Ben Stokes and Alex Hales are all fine players - it would be asking a great deal of them to replace one of England's top three and equal their statistics. Hales, who is most often mentioned as a replacement for Trott, was recently dropped by Nottinghamshire and endured a grim Lions tour of Australia where he scored few runs and was disciplined for his off-field behaviour. His time will come.

Perhaps some critics will be convinced if England win the Champions Trophy. The semi-final against South Africa at The Oval on Wednesday is a tough game and England may well have to do without Tim Bresnan or Graeme Swann. Bresnan missed training on Tuesday to be with his wife, in Yorkshire who is now long overdue the birth date of their first child, while Swann trained but remains a doubt with a tight calf. With Steven Finn and James Tredwell in reserve, England are well stocked with decent replacements.

"We haven't ruled Swann out totally yet for this game," Cook said. "But it's clearly a concern for us. We're going to have to see how he trains and see how he pulls up in the morning. We might be very cautious with him. There's one thing for certain, he won't be risked. There is no point in doing that for the fact that we've got Tredwell, who is an exceptional bowler, as well. We're very lucky in that department."

Cook admitted he "didn't really enjoy the last 10 overs at Cardiff" but reiterated his faith in England's methods and his faith in the batting line-up. While the middle-order have failed to shine in the tournament to date, Cook argued that the high-risk approach they are obliged to take as part of England's strategy was bound to result in some "hit or miss" innings.

"I think the top order have done their job pretty well so far," Cook said. "We've built good, solid platforms to go on and get big scores.

"It's always going to be a little bit hit or miss when the middle-order have to go in and strike from early. But they're sensational players at doing that. We've seen Eoin Morgan do it over the years, Jos Buttler at Trent Bridge and Ravi Bopara in the game at The Oval. You only need one of them to come off to get a big total and put the icing on the cake."

The game also gives England an opportunity to make amends for a previous failure. While most onlookers would agree that South Africa outplayed England in the 2012 series that decided who would be ranked No.1 in Tests, the England camp feel, with much justification, that they failed to do themselves justice. Problems in the dressing room may well have been the root of the problem.

That is not the case now. But against a team including the likes of Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla, whose ODI batting average of 55.92 and strike rate of 91.11 make him one of the few batsmen who can better Trott's record, South Africa remain stern opposition for even the most united team. If there is one thing England learned in 2012, it is that dropping Amla early in his innings - as they did in the Tests at The Oval and Lord's - may well lose them their opportunity to win the game.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo