England’s unexpected but impressive progress into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy has, at last, given Andy Flower and his management something tangible to work with in terms of our limited-overs cricket.
The World Cup of 2011 is the next big staging post as far as 50-overs international cricket is concerned, but England’s excellent showing in this ICC tournament gives real grounds for hope that we can be a force going forward.
Remember, too, that this Champions League success has been achieved without the best two players England possess: Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff.
As I see it, England’s fine wins against Sri Lanka and South Africa, who are two of the very best teams in the world game, were based on getting the basic structure of the team right. By that, I mean that we now have a structure to the one-day side in which everyone knows their job and is playing in their natural and best positions.
I know that may sound obvious, but for too long now we have been expecting players like Matt Prior and Luke Wright, for instance, to do things in the side that they are not best cut out for. It wasn’t too long ago that Prior was batting at number three (and he has also opened the batting in the past) but Owais Shah was down at number six.
Shah, indeed, might not even have been in South Africa for the Champions Trophy if the squads for the tournament had not needed to be announced a month or so before the event. If England had selected on the eve of flying out, I am not sure he would have been included.
His fielding is not the best, and his running between the wickets is another issue for the team to deal with, but Owais has always been a destructive and high-class one-day batsman.
He just wasn’t truly expressing himself at international level – or being allowed to do so – despite a decent enough record over the years.
Now, having been put into his more natural number three position, and having scored 98 from 89 balls against South Africa with some brilliant batting, I hope that it is the making of him as a one-day international batsman.
Everyone on the county circuit knows and respects him as an outstanding player in that position with Middlesex. He must continue to express himself and not put too much pressure on himself.
Eoin Morgan is another Middlesex man who has come through in these games, and his 67 from 34 balls against South Africa was the innings which really won England the game by boosting their total well beyond 300.
I remember when he came to Middlesex from Irish cricket that he was already a natural one-day player, which was not surprising in that virtually all the cricket he had played up until then was limited-overs stuff.
He had to learn to play the longer version of the game, and to tighten up technique-wise, but all the County Championship cricket he now has under his belt has helped to mature him as a batsman.
Eoin has all the shots, and can score all around the wicket. He is a great timer of the ball, and is not afraid to hit over the top. He can hit sixes, but he also has a range of unorthodox strokes in which he sweeps or reverse sweeps and gets the ball away into a lot of strange places.
I would like him not to get too cute when it comes to these shots. There is definitely a time and a place for them, but he must not premeditate them so much because top international bowlers will see him coming.
And, as he showed against the South Africans, he can score incredibly quickly anyway against good bowlers by playing more orthodox cricket strokes.
Morgan’s ability to keep wicket also gives him another string to his bow, besides his outstanding fielding, and he has shown enough already in South Africa – plus against the Australians at home – th