The Lord’s one-day international between England and India proved a timely point: that there is still life in the 50-over format. The match ebbed and flowed, teams were able to construct promising positions in a stealthy, strategic way rather than rely on the smash and grab techniques of Twenty20. Bowlers bowled attackingly (Steven Finn) to relatively aggressive fields. Batsmen of high calibre played themselves in properly.
As in Test cricket, England are good at building a situation – whether it be a partnership with the bat or a double act with the ball. They succeed by increasing the pressure on the opponent – either with a succession of maidens or real dedication with the bat. That is what has earned them their number one status in Test cricket.
But one-day cricket is more like a firework. You light the fuse, encourage it to smoulder, but you need some explosiveness at the end. They haven’t quite cracked that with either bat or ball. Their performance in the batting powerplay – when dynamism with the bat and a bit of cunning and deception with the ball is required – has been moderate. Until that ill has been cured, England won’t win the 50-over World Cup.
Indeed, they had an appalling record in this facet of the game in the last World Cup. A huge number of wickets lost – about 15 – for about 130 runs added with the bat. The best teams’ ratio was 170:5. And their bowling in this period was little better. They stuck with the tried and tested formula of three men back on the legside and all the men up on the offside.
It works okay on bouncier midsummer English decks, but not on the sluggish ones of September or on the subcontinent. They need more disguise and unpredictability. Jade Dernbach represents a solution. It was a shame England jettisoned him after an expensive game at the Oval. He does induce indecision in swashbuckling batsmen, but such is the erratic nature of one-day cricket, sometimes it’s going to go wrong. Been there, got the T shirt!
The bowling has to be clever. It’s all very well having a brilliant fielding side, but the shortness of boundaries and the power and ambition of modern batsmen (and bats) regularly takes fielders out of the equation. Finn, for instance, bowled superbly, constantly promising wickets, but his repetitiveness proved his undoing as batsmen set themselves to use his considerable pace, and did so.
He needs variation, as well as control, to be really effective in one-day cricket. Glenn McGrath, the most successful bowler in World Cup history, was metronomic, but he had a clever slower ball and brilliant aim with the yorker. He was the complete package.
Actually, England don’t have to look far for their powerplay bowler. It should be Graeme Swann. He’s the best one-day bowler England have, with restrictiveness, variation, and wicket-taking potential. He seems a touch reluctant to take on this role. It is about time he did. England’s World Cup winning chances would double were he to do so.