India v England, 5th ODI, Dharamsala January 27, 2013

Quiet encouragement for England

Despite defeat in this series, England have developed a game plan that works and a method that can prosper

Any side that wants to be confirmed as the best in the world can never be satisfied with a series defeat but, bearing in mind England's ODI record in India and their weakened state, then they can depart India both quietly encouraged and slightly frustrated.

Yes, the final victory came in a dead rubber. Yes, this is an Indian side in something of transition. And yes, each of the five games in this series was won by the team that won the toss. For all those reasons, it would be wrong to read too much into these results or the fact that only decimal points separate England and India at the top of the ODI rankings table. It is success in global events that will continue to define limited-overs success.

But when England captain, Alastair Cook, spoke of "taking a lot of positives" from the series, it was not empty rhetoric. Not only had the new captain-coach partnership helped improve England's grim ODI record in India - England had not won any of their previous 13 ODIs against India in India; they had been beaten 5-0 in both their previous ODI series in India; and only once, in 1984, have they emerged victorious from an ODI series in the country - but they have shown they are on the right track.

Most importantly, England have shown they have a game plan that works. They have a team that exploit the new ODI playing regulations - two new balls and fewer fielders outside the ring - better than most. In English conditions, in particular, they look to have a side and method that can prosper. They may well start the Champions Trophy as favourites.

Their qualities were typified by Ian Bell in the final ODI. Bell's calm temperament and sound technique enabled him to withstand some testing bowling in helpful conditions and pace England's chase expertly. If there were any doubts about the make-up of England's top five in the Champions Trophy - and there really shouldn't have been - then Bell and Eoin Morgan should have dispelled them. Bell, it should be noted, was top scorer in both ODIs that England won, their top run-scorer in the series overall and top of the averages. While such players may not have been ideal openers in the ODI cricket of a few years ago, they may prove ideal now.

Certainly the pressure for Kevin Pietersen to return to opening position should have abated. It is true that his record as an ODI opener - albeit from a brief sample size - is a great deal better than his record as a middle-order player. In his eight ODIs as an opener, Pietersen averages 58.85; in his 29 ODIs at No. 3 he averages 28.85 and in his 94 ODIs batting between No. 4 and No. 7, he averages 45.17. In normal circumstances there might be a decent argument for promoting him back to open. But against two new balls and in English conditions - he has never opened in ODIs outside Asia - he is better off at No. 4.

England will go into the Champions Trophy better equipped for a global ODI tournament perhaps since 1992. England need to stick to their guns and retain faith in their methods and key players.

There were other encouraging signs for England. Steven Finn improved by the game and Joe Root and James Tredwell were especially impressive. The conditions of a June day in England - when the Champions Trophy is to be played - may not resemble those of India, but Tredwell showed the skill and composure to suggest, whatever the conditions, he would never let England down. Root, too, may have to be content with a role as understudy at present but, with each passing day, his future looks more and more promising. If you could buy shares in people, you would invest heavily in Root.

The one major disappointment from this series has been England's failure to identify the missing links in their ODI jigsaw. They went into this series all but certain about the identity of nine of their first choice ODI XI and ended it the same way. Perhaps discounting the claims of Craig Kieswetter and Jade Dernbach might be counted as progress, but England are little closer to finding their alternatives. If you accept that this series was about learning, England have to accept that some aspects of it have ended in failure.

The main issues to resolve remain the identity of the wicketkeeper and the identity of the fifth bowler. Hoping to squeeze 10 overs out of the likes of Samit Patel and Root will work sometimes but it is taking a huge risk. The pair conceded 80 runs between them in their 11 overs in the final ODI. England have been here before and it has cost them: in the 1979 World Cup final they attempted a similar ploy only to see the 12 overs delivered by Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch and Wayne Larkins cost 86.

The ideal solution would be to field an allrounder of batting at No. 6 or No. 7 and delivering a full allocation of overs. None of the potential candidates - Tim Bresnan, Patel, Root, Luke Wright, Ben Stokes, Ravi Bopara, Chris Woakes or Rikki Clarke among them - are ideal at present, but knowing what you are missing is a decent first step towards finding it. Given some opportunity in the games remaining ahead of the Champions Trophy, each of them might learn their role. Woakes and Bresnan are in pole position.

The failure to take a look at Stuart Meaker might also be considered a missed opportunity from this series. It is hard to see the benefit of selecting Bresnan - impressive though he was - in the final game of this dead series. England learned nothing new about him. It might have made sense to look at some alternatives.

Minor quibbles aside, England will go into the Champions Trophy best equipped for a global ODI tournament since, perhaps, the 2004 version of the same event or even the 1992 World Cup. Whatever the vicissitudes of form, England need to stick to their guns and retain faith in their methods and key players. It is a long time since a global ODI trophy has been won by a side with a top three that owes more to the traditions of Boycott than Jayasuriya but that is the hand that England have been dealt and they play it well. If they keep playing it and identify the two missing positions, they will prove hard to beat.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan44510660 on January 30, 2013, 15:16 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer - you're right but look at where Prior has been asked to bat for England the various roles he has been asked to play. Add to the fact he is a far superior batsman and keeper since last selected for ODIs. Personally I'd pick him, and if not then Buttler or Bairstow but not Keiswetter, at least not whilst his form has deserted him.

  • on January 30, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    @KiwiRocker-. Sehwag was not even in the team and you call him a flop!! ha ha ha...I can't stop laughing...poor kid!

  • Harmony111 on January 30, 2013, 10:22 GMT

    @jhabib: Stats also tell that India have won the ODI WC twice, WT20 once, been #1 in ODIs and been #1 in Tests. Stats also tell that India have been runners up in WC once. Stats also tell that India have won ICC Champions Trophy once and stats also tell that India have been runners up once. Stats also tell that India won the B&H World Championship Series in 1985, incidentally thrashing Pak in the finals on the so called Fast n Bouncy Wickets. Stats also tell that India won the CB Series beating Australia in the Finals.

    In comparison, Pak have won the ODI WC just once that too after they were lucky not to be eliminated after their league match vs Eng was rained out where they were a.o. for a fab 74. :-) Add to it the WT20 + CB Title & that's all that Pak have done in ODIs. Add to it the 9 times Ind have whipped Pak in WCs+WT20+WS.

    Pak is not even 30% of India actually. Tch Tch Tch.

    Btw, Its 59-12-9 so your data for Tests is wrong - you can't even find the correct stats - how poor.

  • cricfan44510660 on January 30, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    @kiwirocker....good point about the ratings...just at the moment is seems to me that Pakistan must be the best ODI side in the world but it's very close between them, SA/India/England/Australia/NZ/WI & Sri Lanka. I think the Champions Trophy this year will be one of the best ODI tournaments in years (as long as it doesn't rain) simply because most of the top 8 could win it and none of them have been playing their likely first choice 11's in recent months so judging how they will perform is difficult!! BTW, what a stunning performance by the Kiwi's in SA recently, you must be buzzing about your chances in the next few months.

  • jonesy2 on January 30, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    nothing funnier than the pommy delusion. no players at any level means england will soon be completely irrelevant to the cricket world (they basically are now). the likes of bangadesh, west indies, sri lanka are all improving and soon england will be well in truly in the doldrums.

  • cric_J on January 30, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    I agree that this is probably England's best shot at a 50 overs championship. They have proved themselves as a test side over the past few years ,having won the ashes twice,being the no. 1 test side and winning a test series in India. Now they need to do that in ODIs and this bunch is their best bet to do that as they proved last year with an excellent run in ODIs,especially at home.

    Also this ODI series in India was better than the previous ones for England. 3-2 is certainly much better than 5-0.

  • jhabib on January 30, 2013, 4:11 GMT

    Hello Harmony111, here are some fun facts since you've been cross-posting on the Pak v. SA columns:

    Ind v Pak - head to head:

    Tests: Played: 50 India won: 7 Pakistan won: 10 Drawn: 33 India's Win/Loss ratio: 0.7

    ODIs: Played: 129 India won: 49 Pakistan won: 71 Draw, Aban, N/R: 9 India's Win/Loss ratio: 0.69

    Stat's tell me India's only 70% as good as Pakistan head-to-head.

    Source: Cricinfo Statsguru

  • Harmony111 on January 29, 2013, 21:49 GMT

    @trav29: It wasn't India that drew the T20 series, it was Eng who managed to draw it off the very last ball. Compare that to the almost boring way in which India won the 1st T20 where Eng were simply unable to put up a decent total.

    Secondly, what options are you talking about? SB is injured just like Yadav is for India. In fact, Irfan, Sreesanth, Aaron are also injured. Swann is not injured but needed to rest his elbow & Jimmy did not come/rested for this part of the tour. Other than these which Eng player was MIA? I may have missed someone so pls fill that for me. As for JA/GS, they have taken part in the prev tours too. What did they achieve? 0-5, 0-5, 1-5. Wow, the OPTIONS that you are talking about gave you 1-15, some OPTIONS they are. And I am not even talking about how your OPTIONS did in the WC where they couldn't even save Eng from losing to Ireland/BD.

    Do you know that 2-3 of Ind bowlers were even greener than your inexp bowlers? And u happy that Eng lost only by 2-3?

  • CricketingStargazer on January 29, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    @Ayush_Chauhan, Matt Prior's limited overs record for England is dreadful: unbelievably, it is far inferior to Craig Keiswetter's!

  • cricfan44510660 on January 29, 2013, 13:37 GMT

    @gsingh7...let's just examine the records shall we. In a sample of 20 of your last posts you have called England "useless"..."pathetic" etc etc. You have also predicted a 5 -0 whaitewash to India in the tests...followed by a 4 - 1 series win to India after the second test followed by a 2 - 2 draw after the third test followed by a 2 - 0 whitewash to India in the T20's followed by a 5- 0 whitewash to India in the ODIs, followed by a 4 - 1 win for India and now you keep harking back to how England fans ignore how often they have lost in India. You might actually ask yourself if in fact how you rate yourself since you have managed to get every single prediction wrong. Come on now, the majority of other cricketing fans on here understand the limitations of their own team whilst admiring others acheivements...with of course the notable exception of the serial troll RandyOz who can't quite come to terms with the fact that Australia no longer have the Ashes.