England’s management and players have talked relentlessly about the 2019 World Cup for some time. Since failing to get out of the group stages in 2015, everything in the one-day camp has been focused on next summer’s tournament on home soil.
Following the 5-0 series whitewash over Australia on Sunday the familiar lines were trotted out – but this time the tunnel-vision felt different.
“Everything is about building towards the World Cup, but you’ve got to play cricket at the same time,” said vice-captain Jos Buttler, fresh from hitting a magnificent match-winning 110 at Old Trafford.
Read more: Chris Tremlett: Hales performances highlights England’s depth
“We know that further down the line, with the World Cup, it’s not about winning 5-0, it’s about winning one-off games.”
The Manchester win was the culmination of many things for England. It was the completion of a much-desired statistic: the second time they had beaten any side 5-0 in a one-day international series, and the first since thrashing Zimbabwe in 2001.
It was, of course, a resounding finale to a humiliation of their traditional rivals Australia. But it also served as further justification of the process which coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Eoin Morgan have so often preached.
England are the No1 ODI side in the world on merit. They have won 10 of their last 11 series in the format; since the start of 2017 they have won 77 per cent of their 35 completed matches – more than any other side.
They have patented a modern, aggressive and carefree approach to the 50-over format and are reaping its rewards.
While Australia came to England after a winter of discontent with issues in almost every department, they still brought their strongest side and they are still the current World Cup holders.
Much was rightly made of the ludicrous world record 481-6 total made at Trent Bridge, but England also won low-scoring matches at the Oval and Old Trafford.
“We’ve learned a lot throughout the series,” Morgan said on Sunday. “At Trent Bridge we found a new gear to aspire to and we’ve progressed through the series.”
England comprehensively outplayed their opponents in every aspect possible. Buttler, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales all made centuries. Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey were the top wicket-takers.
As Australia captain Tim Paine conceded on Sunday: “We’ve certainly been taught a lesson by a world-class outfit.”
The series-concluding win in Manchester was, in a way, a perfect example of England’s depth. Jake Ball and Sam Curran came into the side for Willey and Mark Wood, and although they didn’t star, they certainly contributed to restricting Australia to 205.
The top order, which had fired so consistently in previous games, was blown away by the pace of Billy Stanlake, but Buttler rode to the rescue, taking the side from 27-4 to 208-9. The wicket-keeper’s score of 110 from 122 balls was remarkably the first time he had faced more than 100 deliveries in 97 ODI innings.
The implication was clear: England are capable of winning in different ways – they are not all crash, bang and wallop. If Roy, Bairstow, Hales, Joe Root and Morgan don’t get you, Buttler or Ali likely will.
Furthermore, the series whitewash was attained without all-rounder Ben Stokes and key bowler Chris Woakes. When Stokes returns from injury, Hales, who scored 232 runs in five innings at an average of 58, will likely drop out, while Woakes will replace Wood.
As Chris Tremlett pointed out in these pages last week, England’s depth is quite something.
“The way we have been playing one-day cricket over the last few years and the way we continue to play, and obviously with the World Cup at home, we should be one of the favourites,” Bayliss stated in January.
“Only time will tell how we handle that but, if we go into all of the series between now and that World Cup thinking we are favourites, then that will be good practice for us and we will see how the players react.”
England are wearing the tag of top dog well so far, but as ever the tests will keep coming. Three ODIs against No2-ranked India are next in July, before a tricky trip to Sri Lanka for five matches in October.
Get through those series unscathed and England’s status as World Cup favourites will be well and truly solidified.
Source : CityA.M.