Ijaz Butt’s latest statement claims that England are guilty of match fixing. If by that he means that they deliberately won the final NatWest one-day international at the Rose Bowl, he is right.
It was a superb, gritty performance that gives England a stunning six series victories since April. The players deserve all the plaudits. But the coaching staff should take a bow too.
In addition to a high level of skill, the things that have borne England along this long and taxing summer have been fitness and attention to detail. It is the little things that combine to complete the bigger picture.
You could pick on a number of things at the Rose Bowl to illustrate that. Andrew Strauss adding a bit of muscle to his already very sound batting game, for instance, meaning bowling teams find him harder to contain.
The odd big six (he has struck 13 in one-dayers this summer) allied to his busyness on both sides of the wicket has consistently given England fast starts. His thumping hit over long on off Abdul Razzaq yesterday forced Shahid Afridi to turn to his spinners earlier than he would have liked.
Then there was Eoin Morgan’s deft placement. He has become masterly not just at the ingenious, inventive shots, but also at nurdling the ball into a big gap on the legside at just enough pace to make a single into two as three men converge on it from their various boundary positions. This requires stamina too, not just from him but his partners.
Tim Bresnan, not previously renowned for his speed , hustled between the wickets like a yearling, while artful manipulation of good yorkers – on which he had worked hard with Graham Gooch before play – helped Morgan make a useful score into an imposing one.
But it is in the field where England’s improvements have been most conspicuous. Their warm-up always includes a sharp session of catches bounced off one of those angled rubber mats and there is now no weak link in the fielding department.
Bowlers, who have often had to be hidden in the outfield, are some of the most agile, rarely is a catch dropped (and the regulation ones are always taken) and three moments at the Rose Bowl – Paul Collingwood’s flying catch at gully to dismiss Mohammed Hafeez and get England up and running, Steven Davies’s slick pick up and throw to Graeme Swann to run out Umar Gul and Morgan’s dead eye hit of one stump to finish the game – encapsulated England’s advance.
Fielding has consistently let England down in Australia on previous Ashes tours. There is no danger of that happening this time.
The bowlers have all been on self-enhancement courses this summer, metaphorically speaking. Anderson and Broad have developed excellent versatility, able to use conditions well if they are favourable (Anderson took 32 wickets in the summer’s six Tests at a mere 16 runs apiece) but capable of adapting if they are not.
Broad cranks the speed gun up to 93 mph at times and his range of slower balls and clever use of the bouncer in the power plays are a cut above any other bowler in the world. Astute, he is always one step ahead of the batsman, while Anderson’s superb control, deceptive slower ball, and phlegmatic nature in the slog overs make him an outstanding and highly-skilled operator.
With the brilliant Swann as their talisman, this England attack is one to really reckon with and, here’s a thing, they bowled NO no balls in any of the five one-day matches against Pakistan.
Indeed, given Pakistan’s own problems with that particular infringement, it could be seen as the ‘epitaph’ of the summer.