THERE were positives for England. New captain Eoin Morgan regained his best form with a superb century, his first since his Brisbane last January, and the bowlers worked hard but it was not the start he, nor coach Peter Moores wanted nor needed.
England’s World Cup warm-ups had been going well. Ian Bell scored 187 against the Prime Minister’s XI and the hope was that his experience would help Moeen Ali and James Taylor at the top of the order. Yet, come the real thing against Australia and, within three deliveries, both Bell and Taylor were dismissed. The Aussies swarmed all over England from then on and won handsomely. Not that this Tri-Nations tournament really matters, with the World Cup following immediately on, but it was meant to give England some idea of their best side – and some momentum.
What was interesting was the manner in which Australia played. They attacked with the new ball, Mitchell Starc in particular a constant threat, and then David Warner smashed, slashed and scampered for runs.
That suggests that the World Cup teams which do well will be the ones who attack hard in all disciplines. That means much relies for England on the bowling of Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Get early wickets and they have a chance. If not, other teams will not fear England’s middle overs. Moeen Ali is a decent off-spinner but he lacks mystery or real cunning.
So Morgan is relying on his pacemen. It would help if Steven Finn could rediscover his top pace. On form he is very quick and no batsman enjoys facing him as he gets steep bounce. Off form he is a liability. Chris Woakes has proved decent enough and Chris Jordan is improving, albeit probably not quite swiftly enough to be a key player.
The issue is they are all a bit similar. There is no left armer to create different angles and no bowler to swing the Kookaburra ball once the hardness and shine have worn off. Opponents will know they can milk England for relatively risk-free runs in the middle overs, while the big hitters of the game such as Chris Gayle, George Bailey, MS Dhoni and Glenn Maxwell will be confident in throwing their hands through the line of the ball.
Therefore, the other weapon England need to use is pressure. If they bat first they must score in excess of 300 and then try to squeeze the opposition into mistakes. Big run chases are hard and, despite more being successful now than 30 years ago, they are still considered extraordinary achievements. The problem is England have passed 300 on only four occasions in four years.
That means the batters need to perform and, ideally, the top order bat for 40 overs leaving Jos Buttler to add the final fireworks with his eclectic mix of ramp shots, swats and smashes.
So, for the next matches in this tournament the batsmen need to work on providing a good platform for a big score that the bowlers have a chance of defending.
If they can do that they should start the World Cup in greater confidence and, because the early stage format is particularly undemanding, barring an absolute disaster they should make the quarter-finals. From that stage, who knows? It is not a plan that breeds optimism but, while every other side except West Indies, has long-standing plans in place, England have changed captain, team and style in the past two months.
Morgan just needs some of the others to show a similar resurgence to his own and England can, at least, compete.