Three years ago, England looked to the World Cup finallists Australia and New Zealand for the combination of power and freedom that would take them out of the ODI doldrums. Now Australia’s captain Steven Smith admitted that his side must take heed of the unbridled fury exhibited by Eoin Morgan’s side to return to the top of the 50-over game.
Jason Roy‘s record England score made the headlines on Sunday night at the MCG, but it was emblematic of a wider approach where most of the top-order batsmen have the licence to attack. The recall of Alex Hales slid Joe Root down to No. 4, if anything a better post from which to act as England’s rudder while other batsmen put three sheets to the wind.
Smith, who has seen Australia slip away from the best of the world’s ODI practitioners over the past year amid plenty of changes to the line-up, said that England’s approach needed to be considered by Australia ahead of the 2019 World Cup. “England’s got to be up there as one of the best teams in the world in one-day cricket at the moment,” he said. “It just looks like the way they play is for everyone to go really hard and Joe Root is sort of the rock in the middle. He just plays good cricket and guys bat around him.
“That works for them and it’s something that we might have to think about as well. Having guys that are going really hard and having someone, it might be me, who just bats normally and then you see how you go. I guess when you do that, perhaps you’re going to have days where you get bowled out for not many. But you back your players to come off maybe more often than not and get those big totals. That’s what the English players are doing at the moment. They’re playing with such freedom and have pretty good game plans.”
Through history, ODI cricket has been dominated either by outstanding teams – think West Indies 1975 to 1983 or Australia 1999 to 2007 – or those prepared to push new boundaries, whether it was Australia setting new fielding and strike-rotation standards in 1987, Pakistan chasing wickets over economy in 1992, or Sri Lanka bossing the early overs in 1996. Morgan has stated bluntly that this is England’s goal, and his attitude to a chase of 305 on Sunday only underlined the fact.
“I certainly would have taken it at the start, 300 these days isn’t quite a big total to chase down,” he told Channel Nine. “Certainly in the last couple of years we’ve found ourselves on the right side of it so it wasn’t a huge task. It was surrounded by Jason’s incredible innings, but I’ve no doubt somebody else would’ve put their hand up if needed.
“We are going with the mantra that we always need to be on top of our game and testing the opposition the whole time. We have done that a bit with the bat, we will try and continue taking wickets with the ball. This time next year we need to be in a good enough space to be contenders for the World Cup. To be in that space you need to be setting or bucking trends or being able to adapt. We are very open-minded with the way we are going. Also the best way to address it is to be on the front foot.”
Both teams lost wickets in clumps on Sunday. The difference however was that Australia’s early struggles against a swift Mark Wood sapped momentum from the early part of the innings, whereas Roy and Jonny Bairstow supercharged England’s chase in such a way that Root was able to play without undue haste in establishing a longer union with Roy. Their stand assumed far larger dimensions than the equivalent partnership between Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh.
“I think we probably left ourselves a bit short, we had a good opportunity at 3 for 196 with 14 overs to go and then we lost two wickets, the two set batters, pretty quickly,” Smith said. “Stoinis and Painey had to reset and probably did well to get up over 300 at that point in time, but if a couple batters stayed for a little bit longer and gave ourselves that chance to really go hard at the back end we probably could’ve got up around 340, which was probably where we needed to be.
“It was pleasing [Finch and Marsh] were able to form a nice partnership. They played some good cricket for that period there. They hit the loose balls, hit the ball to the areas that they wanted to hit it to and rotated the strike really well.
“That’s what they needed to do in the middle overs and try and take it a little bit longer. That’s the disappointing part of it. We had our chance to set ourselves up to get a big score, or what I thought was par, around 330. But we just weren’t able to do it.”
As for how to handle England’s aggression as a fielding captain, Smith said it was simply a case of taking more wickets. “You try and do whatever you can to take wickets, that’s the key,” he said. “If you’re getting them out then they’re not going to be doing the damage out there, but they’ve been pretty consistent playing that way. Someone comes off more often than not and sets their team up really nicely, and this was Jason Roy’s night.”