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Lack of cutting edge hurting England attack

David Willey removed David Warner in his first over Getty Images

The cry of 'handball' might have been expected when England played on Saturday. But in San Marino rather than at Lord's. Instead, it happened during the second ODI, not even in the pre-match game of football that the cricketers now enjoy so much. The hand in question belonged to Ben Stokes, who, in the judgement of the third umpire, wilfully blocked the path of Mitchell Starc's throw towards the stumps.

For the rest of match Stokes sat on the balcony wearing the stern face of someone who had just been the victim of a harsh red card. Yet while those on either side of the debate threatened to tie themselves in knots over the rights, wrongs, maybes and, heaven forbid, the spirit of cricket, there was one fact that should be under no dispute: it was another convincing win for Australia, leaving England a distant second best.

Amid his frustration over the Stokes incident, Eoin Morgan did manage to say, "I don't think it was the winning and losing of the game." But when Glenn Maxwell removed Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali shortly after there was no doubt England were done.

Barring three wins in a row now for England (or two and some rain) they will end an Ashes summer with an ODI series defeat as they did in 2009 and 2013. Trevor Bayliss watched from Sydney as England went toe-to-toe with New Zealand earlier this season and arrived in the country to read glowing reports of the revival of the team's one-day fortunes.

He was unlikely to have been drawn in by the hype beyond, perhaps, being buoyed by the fact that England were willing to embrace new ideals. Yet as he sat huddled in a thick jacket on a chilly, early-autumn day, he will have been reminded that this will be a significant challenge of his white-ball pedigree.

Barring his own thoughts on obstruction, he will not have had to make too many additional notes, either, to those taken at the Ageas Bowl. Australia's innings followed a similar pattern: a solid base at the top (albeit with David Warner's injury) and a power-packed innings, this time by Mitchell Marsh, to lead a final-ten surge. England did not manage as many middle-over wickets as in Southampton, although they exercised reasonable control: Australia scored 74 from the 20th to the 35th over.

And that brings us to the crux. One-day batting orders - particularly for the two sides on show in the series - are threateningly deep: Mitchell Starc and Liam Plunkett are impressive No. 10s. But in turn that puts the onus on wicket-taking rather than defending. It is why Brendon McCullum endorsed attack - sometimes to the level of four slips - for such long portions of an innings.

Adil Rashid's four-wicket haul in Southampton was an encouraging display - and he nabbed Steven Smith for a second time at Lord's - but he, and England's other change-bowling options - are having to operate on the back of very little damage inflicted at the top. Steven Finn's dismissal of Joe Burns was the only reasonably early wicket, when he was bowled in the ninth over, which Morgan acknowledged was a disappointing return given conditions.

It continued a trend. In the seven ODIs against New Zealand and Australia so far this season, on only one occasion have England had the opposition more than two wickets down at the 25-over mark. That was at Edgbaston when New Zealand were flinging the bat chasing over 400. Batsmen are allowed to play well, and England have bowled against some in-form players, but a picture is emerging of a one-day pace attack that lacks a cutting edge.

England shuffled the pack at Lord's, bringing in Plunkett for the rested Mark Wood, but the end result was not vastly different. The pacemen were four right-armers. Plunkett nudged the speedgun over 90mph, but when he found the edge of Maxwell's bat before he had scored there was no one at slip to try for the catch (what would Brendon say?) Plunkett's pace is about the fastest an England bowler achieves at the moment, but 90mph is the exception rather than, for example, Pat Cummins who is regularly over the mark.

It is not that Australia have plucked out huge numbers of the early wickets - at 25 overs England were two down at the Ageas Bowl and three down at Lord's - but with Cummins' speed, Starc's yorkers and Nathan Coulter-Nile's splice-jarring aggression, Steven Smith has clear wicket-taking options to turn to. And that does not mention the golden arms of Marsh or Maxwell or those on the sidelines: Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood and James Faulkner.

It is a reminder, as was the World Cup final, that Australia are a notch above. On days when they are off target the ball can fly, but Australia have long put a high value on outright pace. For example, in 2009 and 2010 England felt the full force of blistering spells by Brett Lee and Shaun Tait at Lord's.

The two pitches so far in the series were flat, although not without decent pace and carry. That is how it should be in one-day cricket. While, ideally, the ball should hold the edge over the bat in Tests, in one-day cricket there is no problem with it being the other way - not that the occasional low-scoring scrap would not be enjoyable. It means a tough life for the bowlers, but they need to find a way.

However, for England there is no point trying to match something you do not have - or at least not in abundance. You have to work with what is on offer. They have some variety sat on the bench. The combative David Willey has no great pace - even his dad, Peter, said that in an engaging feature shown during T20 finals day - but he is a left-armer who swings it.

Reece Topley, the Essex but soon-to-be Hampshire left-armer, has also been added to the squad. Again, he won't push the speed much past the low 80s but he can bowl a good yorker and, as he showed in the T20, is shrewd with the slower ball. While it would not frighten the Australians, it might make them think. Failing that, they could hope for a helping hand.