The ease with which England have sailed through the first three ODIs against Australia only confirms how far they have come in this format. In each of these matches, they have won with enough to spare, and a key aspect of these games has been the manner in which different England batsmen have taken up responsibility: Jason Roy scored a stunning 180 in Melbourne, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales both made fifties in the second when Roy failed, and Jos Buttler scored an unbeaten 100 at No. 6 when the top five didn't get too many in the third.
Since the 2015 World Cup, England have completely revamped their approach to ODI batting, and their results since that shocking defeat to Bangladesh clearly shows the benefits of that approach. Australia, meanwhile, were the winners of that tournament, but since then, they have clearly ceded some ground in this format.
England's ODI batting line-up has been the envy of most other teams during this period, and not without reason. Since the 2015 World Cup, they have put together a top order in which each batsman is capable of going at a run a ball or more, and do so without looking as if they are out of their comfort zone. In this period, seven of their batsmen have scored 900-plus runs at 90-plus strike rates.
England batsmen with 900+ runs at 90+ SR since Apr 1, 2015
There are only 14 such batsmen from all other teams put together, and not more than three from any one team: Australia, South Africa and India have three each, Sri Lanka have two, while Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan have one each. In terms of strike rates, three of England's batsmen are among the top four in this list of 21 batsmen. Add Moeen Ali (624 runs at SR 113.7) and Chris Woakes (526 runs at SR 104.2) to the list and England have almost an entire XI of batsmen capable of scoring a substantial number of runs at a run a ball or more.
The advantage of having such a relentless assembly line of quick scorers is a much higher probability of at least two of them coming good in each game, rather than a line-up that relies only on three batsmen to get the job done. Also, the presence of so many heavy hitters allows England to go hard at the bowling throughout a 50-over innings, rather than limit the aggression to the first ten and the slog overs.
The difference between England and Australia - and indeed England and all the other teams - is the way they have the handled the middle overs, and, to some extent, the last ten. In overs 11 to 40, England are the only team scoring at more than a run a ball since the 2015 World Cup: they have been going at 6.02 runs per over, while the next best is India's 5.54, with Australia at 5.40. A difference of 0.62 runs per over translates into 19 runs in 30 overs, which is the average advantage for England against Australia in the middle overs alone.
Those numbers look even better for England when they chase. Batting second is clearly their preferred mode of operation, given their powerful line-up - they have a 20-5 win-loss when chasing, and 17-10 when batting first. When batting second, England's middle-overs run rate goes even further up, to 6.21, compared to Australia's 5.34. In the first innings, the two teams are closer during this period: 5.85 for England - which is again the best among all teams - and 5.46 for Australia.
The numbers that stand out there are England's, in chases. Despite being ultra-aggressive in the middle overs, scoring at more than a run a ball, they still average more than 50 runs per wicket. Australia are less aggressive during this period, and yet they lose wickets more often. When batting first, though, they have a better average and balls per wicket than England, and the gap between the run rates isn't that much either. It is in chases, though, that England have been clearly superior.
And a look at the top run-getters in the middle overs reveals that England's biggest stars during this period have been Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. Both have similar strike rates of around 95, and have scored 1500-plus runs. Root and Virat Kohli are also exceptional because they have also averaged 90-plus runs per wicket, while striking at around 95. Both have very low dot-ball percentages of less than 40, while also striking a four or a six every two overs. In the middle overs, those are extremely impressive numbers.
Most runs in the middle overs (10.1 to 40) in ODIs since Apr 1, 2015
F du Plessis
Meanwhile, Australia's top run-scorer during this period is Steven Smith, and while he has scored a fair number of runs in these middle overs, his other parameters aren't as impressive as Root's or Kohli's. Smith's strike rate of 80.7 is a function of a relatively high dot-ball percentage of 46.6, and a relatively poor balls-per-boundary conversion of 14.9. (Eoin Morgan makes up for a high dot percentage by getting more boundaries.) On bigger grounds in Australia, the boundaries may be harder to come by than in some other countries, but a lower dot percentage would surely help take the strike rate up towards 90. David Warner has done much better, scoring 1232 runs at a strike rate of 102, balls-per-boundary of 9.6, and dot percentage of 41. However, for Australia to be a bigger ODI force, they will need more batsmen to follow Warner's lead.