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Vithushan Ehantharajah picks the bones out of England's ODI series defeat to Australia and suggests how they can move forward towards the 2015 World Cup
January 27, 2014
Persist with Bell and Cook
Despite a lethargic start at the MCG, compounded by their opposite numbers David Warner and Aaron Finch putting on 163 for the first Australian wicket, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell bucked up. Their next three partnerships were 57, 50 and 87 before 23 on an arduous Adelaide pitch.
It's worth noting that in batting first for the first four ODIs, England's openers were exposed to the toughest conditions for batting in each of them. Collectively, they were at their best at Perth; closing shop till the threat of swing had passed, four overs in, with the score at 15 for 0, before scoring at nine an over for the next eight overs. Both ended the series with a decent strike rate of just over 82 but they will know this will need to be closer to the 90s if they are to consistently register scores of 300.
They will also be frustrated they didn't capitalise on the starts they made, as only once did one of them - Bell in Brisbane - make it past the 25-over mark. Cook finished without even a fifty to his name, but the increase in the variety of strokes he played spoke promisingly of an established player, feted for his frugal shot selection, learning and executing new tricks.
One boundary in particular, off James Faulkner in the 3rd ODI at the SCG, was audacious. To a ball outside off stump, Cook stepped across and whipped it sweetly through midwicket. His follow-through, the "bus wheel" - a flamboyant quirk, fetishised in Australia, where a southpaw's hands cross over entirely, as perfected by Marcus North - was very un-Cook but pretty damn cool.
Stuart Broad will make a good vice-captain
Throughout the ODI series, the pot shots at Stuart Broad continued. A rest from the first two ODIs led to photos in the Australian papers of the England seamer paddle-boarding and the second "Man takes to beach during time-off" story in less than a month.
While he was rusty on his recall at the SCG, he was back up to scratch at Perth before opening up the 5th ODI with one of the quickest spells of the series. But what was most impressive about Broad was his demeanour on the field. It might have been easy for him to grow weary because of a number of reasons, from the length of this tour to the inane barracking of the local crowds. But he has managed to continue till now with great vigour, fitness and a sense of responsibility that hasn't wavered. He took time to talk to bowlers before important spells as well as having what looked to be some candid discussions with Cook.
When speculation was abound about Cook's future as captain, thanks to his own emotional words at the SCG, Broad came up as a potential replacement, but with forewarning of hot-headedness and a list of cons of having a bowler lead the side. If Cook is to continue, then Broad might be the perfect "bad cop" to rejuvenate England in the field.
How best to use Chris Jordan
Ashley Giles recognised Chris Jordan as one of the successes of this series. He bowled at a sprightly pace and was able to maintain that speed throughout. An economy rate of 5.38 is commendable given he bowled the majority of his overs in the first and second Powerplays.
It was only in Adelaide that Jordan was entrusted with a spell at the death, as James Tredwell, Tim Bresnan, Broad and Stokes shared the load from 30 overs on, meaning Jordan had two overs left for the death.
With four out on the leg side boundary - the shorter side - he varied his approach to Faulkner with great results. Initially he followed him, digging one in at his toes. The following over, he caught him out with a bouncer before Faulkner could only find Eoin Morgan in the deep (in truth, it was the only ball he got wrong).
Of course, this was in the first innings; it's worth noting that when Faulkner completed his smash and grab in the 2nd ODI, Cook had chosen not to bowl out Jordan, whose nine overs had returned 0 for 53. Defending a total brings an altogether different pressure, but the indication from those close to Jordan is that he is perfectly equipped for the challenge.
His ability to bowl in different situations of a 50-over game allows England to be more flexible with their bowling plans.
Does English cricket have a "Big Show"?
It's hard to know what to make of Glenn Maxwell. Behind the WWE moniker and David Brent beard stands an exceptional cricketer whose career path projects a best case scenario as a scorer of great runs rather than a great runscorer. His only score of note in the series came at the Gabba with a 54 that featured four reverse sweeps - three of them in a row - to set up a phenomenal chase.
His bowling was useful and his fielding is top notch. His work in the ring through the series has been second to none, with every pick up on the floor and every throw, whether balanced or not, clean as a whistle. His direct-hit run out of Bresnan in Adelaide, as England lost their nerve, was a formality by his standards.
While Darren Lehmann has warned him about shirking his responsibility with the bat, it's hard not to plump for a maverick.
England's approach to eccentrics is exampled no better than the current state of limbo Kevin Pietersen finds himself in. But it does make you wonder about English cricket's rogues and what chance they might have of making a late dash for the 2015 World Cup.
A brilliant 2013, with eye-catching performance in four-day and limited-overs cricket, sees Samit Patel as the most worthy of the outliers. His ability to manipulate the field and find gaps in front of him would add something to England's middle order. His spin bowling has also come on leaps and bounds, particularly his accuracy.
Moving onto the uncapped muscle, Peter Trego and Steven Crook are unhindered heavy-hitting, seam bowling allrounders that are more than worthy of mentions. Crook would be a smart acquisition for an IPL franchise and good performances in high quality competition will turn heads.
Trego's worth is clear for all to see and he underlined his quality with excellence in last year's Yorkshire Bank 40, which he finished as the competition's leading runscorer. But Trego himself admits that the international bridges he burned as a hotter-headed youngster may be beyond repair.
Perhaps more likely for selection are the younger livewires, such as Leicestershire's Josh Cobb and, if he enjoys a record-breaking 2014 for Surrey, the enigmatic Jason Roy. It's all hypothetical whimsy, but as Ben Stokes showed during the Test series, sometimes the punts come good.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala