England’s convincing 122-run victory completed a 3-0 victory in their ODI series against Sri Lanka. The performance epitomised England’s resurgence as a limited-overs team after their disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. The team has batted with controlled belligerence and their bowling attack has sufficient variety to be dangerous in all conditions.
England’s ODI Revival
Anyone who endured England’s performance in the World Cup 16 months ago will recall the muddled thinking which plagued the side. James Taylor, fresh off a solid tri-series at number three, was shunted down to number six in the opening game to accommodate Gary Ballance. This bizarre tactical decision summed up where England went consistently wrong. Ballance was, and still is, a consistent white-ball player, but his low strike rate will attest that he was only an accumulator at international level.
Since their embarrassing group stage exit in that tournament, England’s batting has improved exponentially, simply by picking more aggressive players. Jason Roy’s debut was, frustratingly, in England’s very next ODI, but in this Sri Lanka series he delivered on his potential to fill Kevin Pietersen’s lingering absence. It’s his talent as a front-foot player that has prompted this comparison. Against Sri Lanka’s less-than-blistering pace attack he literally never took a backward step. Even his pulls and cuts were on the front foot.
Another key pillar of England’s recent one-day success has been Jos Buttler. Deployed in a floating role in the batting order, he has the ability to nullify even the most miserly death bowlers. His technique is specifically designed to bat at the death and the numbers prove it. Among players with more than 50 matches, only Glenn Maxwell and Andre Russell have higher strike-rates, but both have significantly lower averages. He uses a strong bottom hand to work yorkers through the off side and his ability to hit all around the wicket makes him almost impossible to set a field to.
Even if these batsmen fail, the depth of England’s batting is remarkable. In the first ODI against Sri Lanka, Liam Plunkett’s last ball six ensured a dramatic tie. He was batting at number ten, despite having an ODI average of over 20. Similarly, David Willey regularly opened the batting when he played for Northamptonshire in 2015. He bats at number nine in the national team.
Alongside the exciting batting England have gradually developed a formidable bowling attack. The balance of their bowlers is typified by Willey and Adil Rashid. Willey, a left-arm swing bowler, frequently takes wickets at the start of the innings, but when the ball stops swinging he is less effective. But Rashid usually takes over in the middle overs to ensure England still have an wicket-taking option. His ability to turn the ball both ways is rare and valuable in one-day cricket.
England’s fielding has also improved after a mediocre series against South Africa in the winter. Joe Root’s drop in the first ODI against Sri Lanka was the only blip in a consistent performance from the hosts. Roy was marvellous in the field and contributed to two of his side’s seven runouts in the five matches. His athleticism evoked memories of Paul Collingwood at backward point.
England have shown in this series that they have the aggressive strategy required to become a formidable white-ball team. If they continue to improve steadily, they will major contenders to win the World Cup on home soil in 2019. In any case, this is undoubtedly England’s best limited-overs side ever.