By Will Moulton
England’s preparation for the upcoming Cricket World Cup continues tomorrow as they play Australia as part of an ODI series that also includes India. Whilst many have already written off their chances of success at the tournament, good performances against the sides ranked first and second in One Day cricket will certainly lift English confidence heading into the event.
England’s form in both one-day formats has been dismal at best in the last twelve months, especially in the 50-over formant. Since the summer of 2013 they have lost all-but-one of the series they have taken part in and only won 9 out of a possible 26 matches. So bad has their form been that captain Alastair Cook was sacked after the 5-2 series loss to Sri Lanka in November and December, despite much insistence that he would be in charge come this month’s World Cup. Whilst this decision has been welcomed by many, there has been widespread criticism of the timing – new captain Eoin Morgan, who has only ever taken charge of 8 international matches, has just a handful of games to get up to speed with one of the most difficult jobs there is in professional sport.
However, despite this turmoil things are starting to look up. Moeen Ali has reinvented his batting at the top of the order, scoring 236 runs in the Sri Lanka series at 1.24 runs per ball and suggesting he is finally the answer to England’s historically slow starts. After a poor 2013, Joe Root was a run-machine in all formats last year and often single-handedly held England’s batting line-up together whilst everyone collapsed around him. He is also a useful bowler too, although it’s unlikely he will bowl too many overs on Australia’s hard and fast pitches. These are more suited to the quick bowlers and the return of James Anderson and Stuart Broad to partner Steve Finn, Chris Woakes and/or Chris Jordan makes England’s fast-bowling line-up look very strong indeed. Combine this will the ever dependable spinner James Tredwell, the classy batting of Ian Bell and James Taylor and the destructive nature of Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ravi Bopara and England actually look to have a decent side, something that has been proved in their two warm-up games in the last few days.
Against a vastly inferior Australian Capital Territory XI, England’s batsmen proved they can score quick runs as they racked up 364 off their 50 overs. Although the highest individual score was just 56, a feat shared by Root and Bopara, only one batsman failed to score lower than 32. England’s bowlers then ripped through their opponents batting line-up, skittling them for just 148 to win by 216 runs – Broad and Anderson looked impressive in their first appearances since the English summer due to injury, as did the spin duo of Tredwell and Ali. Two days later, and against a much stronger Prime Minister’s XI, England’s batting got even better as they racked up 391-6, equalling their highest ever score in a 50-over game. The undoubted highlight of the innings was Ian Bell’s 187, with Ali and Taylor also chipping in with 71 each. Despite Glenn Maxwell’s scintillating 136, their Australian counterparts never really looked like chasing down the mammoth score and Broad took 4-40 as England won by 60 runs. Although both India and Australia are likely to be much stronger opposition, these two victories have sent a message that England should definitely not be discounted for both the tri-series and the World Cup itself.
On the pitch, Australian cricket has had a magnificent revival recently. An Ashes whitewash against England as well as series victories against both South Africa (the top-ranked Test team) and India has seen Australia rise to second in the rankings for the longer format, whilst they have also recovered top spot in the ODI rankings. The batsmen have been scoring runs, bowlers taking wickets and, for once, the squad looks settled and harmonious. The hugely sad death of Phil Hughes had threatened to stop the resurgence but, if anything, it has made the squad even stronger. The desire to win for their team-mate, combined with the fact they will be playing against their biggest rivals on their home turf, will undoubtedly mean the Aussies will be hugely fired up for this series and will give everything they have got.
The story has been the complete opposite for India though. After a spell of domination in the late ‘00s/early ‘10s, their form across all the formats has dipped drastically. Whilst they are still ranked second in the ODI rankings, the Indians look a shadow of the side that won the 2011 World Cup. However, this series will be a chance for them to stop the rot and prove that they still are a force to be reckoned with and, with players such as Virat Kohli and R Ashwin in their ranks, have the potential to beat anyone on their day.
The upcoming series between these three teams is more than just a World Cup warm-up; each side has a point to prove, scores to settle and form to continue/recapture. The support for 50-over cricket may be sliding, but expect nothing but fireworks between these three teams over the next fortnight.