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England's New Groove

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England_cricket_T20_world_cupScene: The Adelaide Oval - March 9th, 2015

A place in the 2015 ICC World Cup quarter finals was up for grabs. In reply to Bangladesh's total of 275, England started strongly to reach 121/2. Just when it seemed they would comfortably canter to the target, Eoin Morgan's side capsized rapidly to crash out of the tournament. It has almost been a year since that eventful day.

Fast-forward to February 6th, 2016. Not even 3 days had passed since England had hammered the South African bowlers all over the park en route to 399 in the opening encounter. Riding on a powerful top-order, they chased down 263 at Port Elizabeth quite comfortably to take a 2-0 lead in the ODI series. Even though England subsequently failed to close out the proceedings and went down 2-3 to the Proteas, there was nothing shameful in their performances in those closely fought matches.

The major difference between Adelaide and Port Elizabeth was the discernible change in approach towards the shorter formats of cricket. Acknowledging the need to embrace the modern outlook of fearlessness, the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) revamped the entire setup in a massive overhaul.

Peter Moores was unceremoniously booted and Trevor Bayliss was appointed the Head Coach. Andrew Strauss arrived as the Director of Cricket and he publicly emphasized the importance of English players growing out of their comfort zone by participating in overseas leagues such as the BBL and IPL.

 

For a country which possesses perhaps the most robust domestic circuit in the world, England had previously played ODIs in a similar manner as Tests, and unsurprisingly got left out as other nations started to adopt different strategies to counter the vagaries of limited overs cricket. This is supported by the fact that their record in World Cups started to decline steadily since the 1992 edition, which was the last time they managed to reach the semi-finals.

Admittedly, there have been the odd periods of promise in limited overs cricket. Apart from the 2010 World T20 title in the Caribbean, England whitewashed a Pakistan ODI side which had the pre-ban Saeed Ajmal in the UAE. They also reached the finals of the 2013 Champions Trophy at home only to lose narrowly to India. The major difference between those England teams and the current one is the presence of players who have been pigeonholed as limited overs specialists.

As a result, there is a method to the madness. The consistency in Morgan's present day England can be gauged from their competitiveness in every series that they have played in since the World Cup. A flamboyant New Zealand outfit was defeated 3-2 in England, and even the world champions, Australia, were made to sweat it out in a tense series. Pakistan were brushed aside 3-1 and 3-0 in ODIs and T20s respectively in the UAE. But the biggest takeaway was the reinvigorated game-plan and a keen sense of tactical nous.

Taking full toll of the power-play, settling down in the middle and ending on a high

Pivotal to their success has been the opening pair of Jason Roy and Alex Hales. Starting strongly is a crucial aspect of modern day limited overs batting and they have certainly not disappointed so far. Complementing each other by getting the innings off to fliers, they are showing signs of forming a dangerous partnership at the top. The common feature of every successful opening combination has been the awareness needed to shield out of form partners by taking the majority of the strike.

If Gordon Greenidge was surging ahead, Desmond Haynes would feed the strike to his partner. On the other hand, Haynes would expand his repertoire of shots if Greenidge was not at his fluent best. Same was the case with Matthew Hayden & Adam Gilchrist and Sachin Tendulkar & Sourav Ganguly. It becomes critical to understand each others’ mindset before stepping on to the field. Roy and Hales are displaying remarkable maturity in this regard.

The middle-order consisting of Joe Root, Morgan and James Taylor is dynamic and capable of adjusting their style of batting to the required tempo. Root, in particular, has grown steadily to become one of the leading batsmen in the world across all formats of the game. His insatiable appetite for runs is backed by a solid defensive technique against both swing and spin. As a result, he is comfortable rotating the strike and keeping the scoreboard ticking.

Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali provide the finishing touches to the innings by unleashing an array of strokes. Their audacious stroke-play puts the opposition bowlers under immense pressure in the death overs. They can also defuse top-order collapses by counter-attacking with élan.

Early wickets, stifling spin and spearing in the death overs yorkers

The pace attack of Reece Topley, Chris Woakes and David Willey strike regularly with the new ball to unsettle any batting unit. Bowling at a fair clip, the three of them are canny operators, relying on accuracy and seam movement. Unfazed by the opposition's onslaught, they bowl within their limitations and somehow manage to eke out key wickets at the top.

During the death overs, the seamers are aware of the pressure that they are under and look to keep things simple. Aim at the block hole and fire in one yorker after another. Even though bowling yorkers is extremely difficult, the pacers stick to their tasks and do not worry about missing their length.

Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are turning out be handy in the middle overs, supporting each other admirably. Ali is economical and creates pressure by strangling the batsmen with his control. Rashid's role is to break partnerships and curtail the opposition with a mixture of flight and loop. Ben Stokes is a highly valuable addition to the bowling attack as he can bowl impressively at varying stages of an innings.

But there are sterner tests in the offing. England still have a lot to prove, particularly in sub-continental conditions. There is also a question mark on whether they can cope with the unforgiving crunch moments of an ICC tournament. Armed with sufficient depth in their squad, the English team would want to prove a point or two in the upcoming World T20 in India.

In the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup exit, Moores had stated that he needed to 'look at the data' to explain the loss. Rest assured, those days are long gone. However, only time will tell whether Bayliss' side have indeed turned the tide in limited overs internationals.



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Ram Kumar is passionate about all sports, especially cricket. His favorite cricketers include Rahul...

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