When is it not too troubling to lose a one-day international after scoring 333? Answer: when you’ve spent most of the series worrying about your batsmen, and your bowling line-up is so full of all-sorts it risks being sued by licorice.
Such has been England’s Commonwealth Bank Series, which began life as a chance to laud it after the Ashes but has turned into yet another untimely pre-World Cup kick amidships.
This is not to say Andrew Strauss’s men suddenly have no chance out in south Asia – just that it now feels counter-intuitive to back them. When I was asked yesterday by this magazine to nominate my two finalists, I went – imaginatively, you might taunt – for India and Australia. At the start of this series, England would have tempted me.
But all, weirdly, is not lost. By piling up 333 against an attack in which Australia’s big three seamers – Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson – produced the combined figures of 25-1-168-4 – England at least answered some questions about a batting line-up that had been curiously frail in three of the previous five games.
The Jonathan Trott debate – aired here last week – is now over, and so too, it seems, is the one involving Paul Collingwood. England’s new No.7 also happens to be their meanest seamer: if a back injury hadn’t prevented him from bowling a single over today, Australia might even have lost. Yes, the cricketing world has gone that crazy.
Matt Prior – one score out of five since his one-day career was saved from oblivion – remains a worry, but England knew they were taking a risk. And it may yet pay off. It’s hard to imagine Eoin Morgan’s slump continuing indefinitely. And I’ll always back Kevin Pietersen in the big games (which, as far as the World Cup goes, means from the quarter-finals onwards).
The state of the bowling attack, meanwhile, is now so tattered and frayed that it almost precludes serious analysis. Chris Woakes and Steven Finn – two of the three main seamers at the SCG – are not even part of the World Cup squad, while Mike Yardy, who bowled 10 reasonably tight overs today, will be the man to miss out if England persist with Collingwood at No 7.
If England ever return to the luxurious scenario of being able to select from a fully fit squad, their bowling line-up come February 22 against the Netherlands in Nagpur (I know, I know) should be: Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Collingwood, plus a bit of Trott and a couple of overs from Kevin Pietersen.
Suddenly, it looks a different game. Which is why you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about yet another one-day defeat at the end of a gruelling tour which will be remembered for different reasons altogether.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail and you can sign up here for his weekly newsletter ‘the Top Spin’, which was named Online Column of the Year at the 2010 Sports Journalists’ Association awards. He has also been named as the next editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack