The whole ODI scene has gone ill for England. A thumping defeat in the 3rd match of a 7 match series may not be immediately fatal for England’s chances at the World Cup, but an alarming tendency to ineptitude with the bat hints at deeper structural problems in the longer limited overs format.
The first two matches had seen long passages of play during which England were well on top of their hosts. How they failed to get over 300 in the first match, and throw away a position of seemingly impregnable dominance at Hobart in the 2nd we can only guess, but at Sydney they were truly woeful from beginning almost to the end.
The rigidity of making the wicket keeper open the batting is currently doing Prior no favours and again he failed to make a run. And again it was a fine ball from Lee that did for him, but why is he being expected to face fast bowlers with the new ball?
Strauss, as has been the case all tour, looked comfortable enough but his run out with both he and Trott at the same end encapsulated all that is currently wrong with England’s batting.
And as for Morgan, he looks the part but is contriving the oddest ways to get out. At Sydney he managed, like Trott at Hobart, to direct a full blooded pull off a slow long hop in to the hands of mid wicket. In truth it was a fine catch by Clarke, but Morgan had 60 rows of the stands to aim for and emphatically missed them.
Collingwood, whose presence in the ODI side in theory gives England the balance they will so desperately require on the subcontinent, looks like his body is currently possessed by an 80 year old nun. His two balls featured a lucky inside edge that just evaded his leg stump and a blind grope at a straight ball from Doherty. Everyone goes through losses of form, but this is more like a loss of every sensory capacity required for the most basic fulfillment of life. I can offer no solution to his current problem more practical than the employment of an exorcist.
Thereafter England scratched their way to a total 30 runs short of respectability. There was even time for Tremlett to throw away his wicket by absent mindedly failing to ground his bat, leaving Trott stranded on 84* with two overs unused.
Australia’s reply had its own moments of comedy value. Watson’s ton in the 1st match was clearly the worst thing that could have happened to him as thereafter he has looked like a wicket waiting to happen. Sure enough Tremlett did for him cheaply.
Hobart’s century maker Marsh was trapped in front, called for a review and was surely surprised to discover the replay suggesting it would have hit middle half way up. White seems chronically out of form and Clarke is currently batting for the opposition. With only Haddin showing any fluency England began to believe they could somehow get back into the match. When the gritty keeper chipped an easy catch to long on off Collingwood the hosts had slumped to 100-5 and we had a game on our hands.
But this was a temporary illusion. David Hussey is a much underrated earnest battler and the situation was tailor made for him. With no pressure on the scoring rate he was able to busy himself with ones and twos as Strauss failed to attack with Tremlett. Shorn of his other strike bowlers in Anderson, Broad and Swann, a diet of Yardy and the commendable but hardly threatening Collingwood was not what the doctor ordered.
Smith, true to type, did manage to toss away his wicket in pointless fashion just as the game looked won, briefly raising England’s spirits but a mundane ODI got the finish England deserved as Hussey and Hastings cantered to victory.
People will speculate about tiredness, will offer the excuse of missing players (Pietersen was unavailable through unspecified injury to go with the front line bowlers) and may even suggest that the whole series is something of an anticlimax after the thrills of the Ashes. But in truth, England’s batsmen are so far away from any kind of limited overs form that the situation looks bleak.
It could all change. Pietersen and Morgan could score heavily at Adelaide, Bell may even get to open one day, and Strauss might just go on to convert a good start into an anchoring hundred. For sure the Aussies look vulnerable with both bat and ball, but no matter how well England’s second string bowlers compete, no side will defend 214 on a regular basis.
I’ve been told by hundreds of listeners that it doesn’t actually matter. England won the Ashes and frankly who cares about these ODIs? What really counts is India’s test tour of England in the summer.
Well, we on Test Match Sofa are about to embark on a 30 game World Cup marathon. With a bit of luck it may be one of the last 50 over tournaments ever staged. If England keep up their current batting form I will be reporting on far more humiliating defeats than the three we’ve suffered at the hands of the number one ODI side in the world. Bangladesh won’t be the worst of it. Ireland? Netherlands? It could be a long dark teatime of the soul.