THE revolution is alive and well. England have learned from the World Cup shambles and have embraced the modern world of aggressive cricket. The irritating thing is if they had done this 12 months ago they would have had a chance in Australia three months ago. That was a catastrophic misjudgement and one that certain people have paid for with their jobs.
There are talented players in England, they just needed selecting and then given the freedom to play as they wish. No more crabbing across the stumps in the early powerplay overs with Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance. Now we have buckles being swashed with abandon by Alex Hales and Jason Roy. They have not really yet fired together in this series and yet already they have punters hustling back to their seats to ensure they miss nothing.
They are followed by Joe Root, who along with Steve Smith of Australia is one of the in-form batters in world cricket. And at last someone has realised Eoin Morgan is an audacious talent that needs responsibility to thrive rather than being sheltered down the order as a supposed finisher. As captain he is No.4 and stamping his attitude and authority over this young group of cricketers.
Actually, similar responsibility has been put on Ben Stokes at five and Jos Buttler at six. This top order will have disasters but they, in the favoured parlance of the dressing rooms, ‘will not die wondering’.
How different for opposing bowlers now to know their foe is trying to hit them for four every ball rather than eking out the first 15 overs.
What, or rather who, has brought about such changes?
Paul Farbrace, the interim coach while all wait for the Australian Trevor Bayliss to arrive, must take much of the praise. The first inkling towards his philosophy was the elevation of Stokes to six in the Test-match side and the lowering of Moeen Ali to No.8.
There was a distinct plan in these moves and they worked. He has brought similar clarity of thought to the one-day side and, because he has previously worked closely with Bayliss as assistant to the Australian, we can assume these changes have been thoroughly discussed between the pair.
So we now have a side prepared to slug it out like a prizefighter with one of the best one-day sides in the world. They won the first ODI against New Zealand handsomely, and, but for some ill-timed late rain at the Oval on Friday evening, might have sneaked a most dramatic win in the second.
And how? Teams like England just don’t chase 400 to win. Well, the message has gone out to the rest of the world that they do now. To achieve this it is vital to have lower order players who can bat as well as bowl and that is where Liam Plunkett proved his worth on Friday. He is a quick bowler first and foremost but some of his shot-making was worthy of a top order player. He moved outside leg stump to the left arm spin of Mitchell Santner to open up the gap over extra cover and beautifully hit it for six with a shot of supreme elegance. Tailenders are meant to slog and swing to leg like a drunk sailor in port, not play shots demanding exquisite timing and execution. Plunkett could be a match-winner with the bat much like the vaunted James Faulkner is for Australia. And although David Willey has not made his debut yet he could be similar.
So it is all encouraging for this new-look England and the party will continue in Southampton today. Win or lose, this fresh-faced young squad of buccaneers has already dragged England’s one-day cricket into the 21st century. Just think how much better it could get if the Natwest T20 Blast became a more elite franchise-based competition with the best in the world playing. An English version of Australia’s Big Bash would be perfect: any discussion Down Under about how they returned to dominance in one-day cricket and won the World Cup does not take long to move towards the positive effect of their Big Bash T20 tournament.
The fielding – witness the boundary catch by Tim Southee and Trent Boult on Friday – the power hitting by all and the discipline of bowlers delivering yorkers just inside the white line that guides wides has all come about with T20 cricket. So 50-over cricket is now a longer version of T20. More overs equates to more fun and finally England have worked it out. They are playing with purpose, aggression and more importantly a sense of joy and they are taking the fans along with them. The odd mishap will be forgiven if the entertainment provides enough spectacular days like Edgbaston and the Oval.