England v Ireland, Super Eights, Guyana

England's tentative top order remains a worry

S Rajesh

March 30, 2007

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England's top order will do well to take a cue from Kevin Pietersen's attacking display © Getty Images
In the end, England won quite comfortably, but the manner in which they achieved wasn't entirely convincing, especially considering the fact that they have far stiffer challenges to conquer later in the tournament. The bowlers conceded 67 in the last nine overs, and while that can be excused as an attack lowering their guard knowing that match was already in the bag, their limp batting through the first half of the innings will probably cause the think-tank more concern.

The problem starts with the openers - Michael Vaughan has scored 137 runs at 15.22 in his last nine innings, with a highest of 45. Ed Joyce has a better record, but in four opening stands in the World Cup so far, only once have they put together more than 15.

The early loss of a wicket has usually put England on the defensive from the start, and it doesn't help that their No.3 batsman - and indeed most of their top order - are orthodox players who aren't inclined to take the attack to the bowlers. In this aspect, England lose out significantly when compared to the leading contenders in this tournament - most of them have at least one batsman in the top three who can take the attack to the opposition and smash good-length balls out of the park. England's batsmen, apart from Kevin Pietersen, prefer to play by the book and defend the good ball. The table below shows how all the England batsmen apart from Pietersen tackled the various lengths bowled by Ireland in the first 30 overs of their innings - against good-length deliveries they scored at precisely 1.38 runs per over. Ian Bell alone faced 50 such balls and scored 13 - that's 1.56 runs to the over.

England's batsmen, except Pietersen, in the first 30 overs
Length Balls Runs Scoring rate
Short 25 19 4.56
Good length 91 21 1.38
Full length 20 24 7.2

The one exception to the generally meek performance in the first 30 overs was Pietersen, who as usual went after the bowlers and denied them the opportunity to settle into a rhythm against him. He scored at almost four-and-a-half runs per over against the good-length balls, more than three times the rate at which the other batsmen scored their runs.

Pietersen, in the first 30 overs
Length Balls Runs Scoring rate
Short 10 7 8.57
Good length 27 20 4.44
Full length 13 18 8.31

If Pietersen started the charge, the Paul Collingwood finished it off in style with his 82-ball 90. He favoured the on side heavily, getting 62 of his runs in that region. He certainly wasn't bothered by any length that the Irish bowlers bowled - he managed 51 from the 57 good-length deliveries he faced, a clear sign of the confidence which stems from having scored 497 in the last seven innings. All that England need is for some of that confidence to rub off on the other top-order batsmen.

For Ireland, Niall O'Brien's half-century was the brightest aspect of their innings. It was the 49th instance of a wicketkeeper registering a fifty-plus score in all World Cups, and the 11th instance in this tournament.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
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