Cricket / 2018

England's Terrible Finish to a Wonderful Year
England finished what has been a highly successful year in ODI cricket with a record defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the 5th and final game of the series. Having already secured their 5th bilateral series win of 2018, England made several changes to their side particularly in the bowling department where the likes of Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett and Sam Curran were given their first taste of competitive cricket on the tour so far. In what was a nothing game, England returned a nothing performance with their poor bowling and fielding allowing Sri Lanka to rack up 366 in their 50 overs, a record score for the home side against England. In reply, England slumped to 4-3 at one point and lost wickets at fairly regular intervals throughout before rain once again intervened just before Sri Lanka could finish the job with England 132-9. England opted to rest captain Eoin Morgan for the game which given his current form (despite missing the match he still finished as the leading run scorer in the series) and the fact that he only plays white ball cricket seemed a strange decision. Surely if England wanted to rest a key batsman and ensure that they gave some of their squad players a run out then Joe Root who is a constant presence in all 3 formats as well as having to bare the burden of Test captaincy, would have appreciated the chance of putting his feet up. Without Morgan, England lacked their usual intensity in the field and the inspired bowling changes that in past games have led to them claiming wickets at just the right time were absent in this game under the captaincy of Jos Buttler. Both England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss and Eoin Morgan have defended the decision to make wholesale changes to the 11 by stating that it is important for England to consider their options in the run-up to the World Cup next June, including the possibility of an injury to Morgan himself which would presumably lead to Buttler taking over the captaincy reins once more. In fairness to England, they have avoided the temptation of experimenting too much with their squad over the past couple of years and this defeat isn’t likely to have much impact upon their planning for 2019 but I am sure that some harsh realities have hit home following the 219 run loss. Perhaps more important in the context of the upcoming Test series was the performance of some of Sri Lanka’s players, who came out with a positive intent that has been sorely lacking during a 5 match losing streak. The fast start provided to them by Dickwella and Samarawickrama certainly caught England by surprise who this time around weren’t able to wrestle back the initiative in the middle overs, something that had been a feature of their success in the earlier matches. Instead, captain Dinesh Candimal and Kusal Mendis continued what the openers had started with a stand of 102 from just 76 balls to take the match away from England. Mendis’ return to form will have given both him and the team particular satisfaction as it ended a run of 24 innings without a half-century. I had written in a previous post that I feel he has the technical ability to be a top-drawer player but the last couple of years have seen diminishing returns for this talented stroke player. Could this innings prove to be the catalyst for him to relaunch his promising career? A full preview of the Test series that is due to begin on 6th November will be provided in due course. The Highs of 2018 Despite the drab end to the calendar year for the ODI team, it has in general been a magnificent 12 months for England's ODI team who have won 17 out of their 23 completed matches. The biggest plus points of 2018 include .... Jonny Bairstow Up until the summer of 2017 Bairstow was only a bit part player for England’s ODI team, living off the scraps provided by other’s misfortune whether that be injury or a loss of form. However, since being called into the side during the Champions Trophy for the out of sorts Jason Roy, he has gone from strength to strength. He is the only batsmen in the England side to finish 2018 with more than 1000 runs in ODI cricket with only the imperious Virat Kohli (who yesterday broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record as the fastest batsman to 10,000 ODI runs) ahead of him in regards aggregate runs. However, Bairstow does lead all players this year in terms of his Strike Rate 118.22 and number of 4s and 6s scored (124 + 31). It could have been even better for Bairstow had he not have injured himself playing football during a warm-up for a cricket game (try and figure that out!) during the recently completed Sri Lanka series. England will also be slightly concerned about his form following a disappointing Test series against India in which his technique and stance at the crease were called into question. One thing we do know is that with Jason Roy and Joe Root both in very good touch and Alex Hales waiting in the wings, England have strength at the top of the order as they prepare to pursue their first ever World Cup victory. Depth and Power in the batting Moving down the batting line-up, England can also boast some powerful hitters in the middle and lower order with even Adil Rashid who usually bats at number 10 capable of scoring useful runs (as we saw in the 2nd ODI against Sri Lanka). This strength and depth to the batting line-up has been evident for some time with England scoring at a run rate of 6.23 in all ODI matches since the last World Cup and this year they smashed their own World Record total in an ODI match by scoring 481 against Australia at Trent Bridge. Indeed 4 of the 11 highest scores of the year so far belong to England and they have passed the 300 run mark in 8 of their innings in 2018. Wickets in the middle overs There is almost an expectation with white ball cricket these days that batsmen will dominate the initial powerplay period. With only 2 men allowed back on the boundary, modern batsmen with their heavy bats and attacking instincts find it fairly easy to hit the hard white balls that rarely offer any swing to the fence and very often over it. That being the case, it has become increasingly important that sides develop strong wicket taking options in the middle overs to keep the opposition's scoring in check. In Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Liam Plunket England have just that with the trio responsible for bowling the bulk of overs 10 to 40 this year during which they have returned a combined strike rate of 32 - that's a wicket for 1 of them about every 5 overs! Adil Rashid is the man leading the way with 42 ODI wickets this year, leaving him behind only Afghanistan's Rashid Khan in the wicket-taking stakes. Causes for Concern Run rate against For all the runs that England are scoring they are also conceding a lot as well and in fact only Sri Lanka have conceded at a faster rate than England since the last World Cup. Part of this can be put down to how good the pitches in England are with their even pace and true bounce allowing big scores to be made but England must also look carefully at their powerplay and death bowling options ahead of next year's World Cup. Mark Wood and David Willey have bowled most of England's early overs this year and both have showed signs of improvement, in particular, Willey who was given additional responsibilities at the end of the innings while Ben Stokes was unavailable. What England do potentially miss is a bowler who can deliver some variety in those periods of the game. I have mentioned before the potential for Tom Curran to add that variation to England's attack and it will be interesting to see once everyone is fit and available whether he maintains his place in the team. The return of Chris Woakes was also a welcome addition for England and it seems likely that he will lead England's bowling attack next summer if he remains fit to play. When England lose they tend to lose big! The problem for a team that has an over-reliance on scoring big runs is that when they have a bad day (and all teams do) then the likelihood is that they will lose! England don't have many bad days but as the final match in this series demonstrated when they do, it often ends in a heavy defeat. In the 2017 Champions Trophy, the traditional warm-up to a World Cup, England were playing imperiously throughout until they had one of those days against Pakistan and their tournament was ended in the semi-finals. In fact, baring a couple of defeats in closely fought games against New Zealand, all England's other loses in 2018 including Monday's thrashing by Sri Lanka have been by big margins Australia (Jan 2018) - Having already won the series England slip to 8 for 5 batting first and are eventually beaten by Australia who chase their modest target in just 37 overs Scotland (June 2018) - The Olde Enemy batter England's bowling attack on their way to making 375 and recording a rare victory over the number 1 team in the world. India (July 2018) - Kuldeep Yadav torments England's batsmen with 6-25 before India's much vaunted top order cruise to an 8 wicket win with 10 overs to spare. Eradicating these kinds of performances and ensuring that they peak just at the right moment is crucial for England's chances of lifting the World Cup on home soil in 2019. Which team do you think is in the best shape for the World Cup in 2019? Let me know in the comments below

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