The last time England got through a whole ODI summer without losing a match was in 1997, when there was only three one-day games and England beat Australia in all of them. Over the last 19 years, the number of ODIs that have taken place has increased. In recent times there have been 10 or more matches across the summer, and going unbeaten over that many games is a lot more significant achievement. They didn’t quite manage it, but they came close, losing the last match of the summer.
It has now been 18 months since the disastrous 2015 World Cup where England were embarrassed to such an extent, that in the immediate aftermath they lost a Managing Director and a Head Coach. England turning that around to go through a summer without once losing a 50-over match would have been remarkable.
The issue back in early 2015 was that England were playing old-fashioned cricket, and going about it badly. They were staid and conservative in the hope of being able to attack in the latter stages of their innings. The problem was they didn’t execute that tactic well. Many argued that the issue wasn’t the personnel, but the approach. What has followed has been a on field vindication of that opinion.
Since the end of the 2015 World Cup five batsmen have made 1000 ODI runs. Four of them are English players. Joe Root, Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan and Jason Roy have all reached that landmark in the last 18 months. The only other batsmen to have passed 1000 ODI runs in that timeframe is New Zealand’s Martin Guptill.
In the last 18 months England have passed 350 six times. In over 40 years of one-day internationals, they have done so only twice before. In fact, they have even passed 400 twice since the 2015 World Cup. This batting revolution reached its culmination when England made 444 for three against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. A world record score made by a team that had been a laughing stock at a World Cup that took place last year.
Getting carried away about this team would be easy to do, primarily because England being this close to the cutting edge of one-day cricketing tactics for this length of time has been so rare.
However, there is a long way for this team to go and a fair few caveats need to be applied to this England setup. They have struggled for consistency as shown by their losses to South Africa and Australia since the World Cup. This summer is the first period of sustained success that England have put together, but it has been against two sides that are in, what could either be said to be in a trough of form or a rebuilding phase, depending on how generous you are feeling. Add in home conditions that were alien to both sets of tourists and it means you have to stay calm when talking about England winning their first global one-day trophy in the next few years.
Sri Lanka pushed England close a few times, not least in the game that England tied with them thanks to a last ball six from Liam Plunkett. The same is not true of Pakistan while the series was still alive. They were very impressive in the Test series but by and large awful in the first four ODIs. In fact Pakistan were making a lot of the mistakes that England did at the World Cup last year. There were a few moments of success but none that added up to them challenging for a victory until the very last match in Cardiff where England misfired with the bat allowing them to take it easy on a placid pitch. But by then the series was gone and England were looking to experiment.
All a side can do is beat the opposition that they are given, and in this summer a lot of the criticisms of this young England side have have been worked on. England had struggled to reassess and rebuild once early wickets have fallen. This summer there have been a number of times they have done just that, not least in the fourth ODI against Pakistan where they were four down with just 72 runs on the board. Sometimes you need to win ugly and England have done that this summer.
The big issue for England remains their bowling which is significantly less impressive than their batting. While they have four of the top five run scorers since the 2015 World Cup, they have just two bowlers in the top ten wicket takers in the same period. Adil Rashid is actually the leading wicket-taker since the World Cup, but he has taken his 38 wickets at an average of nearly 40. There is a distinct lack of potency to England’s bowling and on flat surfaces against top sides they will continue to struggle.
The shining light in this regard is Chris Woakes who has come of age in all formats. Over the ODIs this English summer he has taken 14 wickets at an average of 28.57. He has been a consistent wicket taking threat aided by him adding a yard to his bowling. He has also regularly bowled balls that were quicker than 145kph.
The man who is most likely to start taking wickets for England in batsmen friendly conditions, but who hasn’t managed it just yet, is Mark Wood. He has the extra pace to give players the hurry up. The issue will always be that his body is prone to injury. England would do well to pick him sparingly and unleash him only when fully fit.
This lack of bowling threat was best summed up in the final ODI in Cardiff. With England fluffing the final 10 overs of their batting innings, they had an under par score to defend and struggled. Having left out both Rashid and Moeen Ali there was no real variation. Liam Dawson was brought in and found his ODI debut a tough one and the seamers look one dimensional on a flat pitch - aside from Wood. If England are to fulfill their ambitions of winning the Champions Trophy and the World Cup at home over the next two years, they need to more than just a team that can bat big and hope for the best.
There are far bigger tests for this team, not least a winter away playing Bangladesh and India. This is as good an England one-day team as there has been in the last 20 years, but that says as much about the quality of the sides that went before them, than about this group of players. When they face Virat Kohli in conditions where the ball will not swing we will find out a great deal about these bowlers. Success in the World T20 in India where they came so close to winning will give them confidence, but ODIs in India is England’s final frontier.
They have never beaten India in an ODI series in India. The closest they have come is two drawn series in 1993 and 2002. Win in India and we can start talking about this being a world beating side. Until then they are just very, very good.