England’s one-day side is outstanding. Among the best in the world. But when they collapse, they do it in style. Without putting a damper on things, it could yet prove their undoing at the 2019 World Cup, the tournament that so much planning and investment has gone towards.
Various parameters were drawn up for the batting implosion in Dunedin: it could have been 5 for 13, 6 for 21 or 8 for 46. However, it’s spun, it’s not great. It was the fewest runs scored in an ODI by England’s No. 4 to No. 8 – that’s not the sort of record this one-day side wants to be setting.
The team have been at pains to say over the last 48 hours, firstly from Eoin Morgan and then Jonny Bairstow, that it was the first collapse of its type. Indeed, it came when England were 267 for 1 and the talk was whether they would push 400 again. It was not, as against South Africa at Lord’s (20 for 6) or Australia in Adelaide (8 for 5), against the new ball when it nipped around.
But it cost them the match and a chance to wrap up the series. It required a great innings by Ross Taylor to marshal the chase, but New Zealand should have been needing somewhere around 370 and, as Taylor said, that would have been a fair different prospect, especially from 2 for 2.
Morgan’s comment when asked whether England had aimed too high was reminiscent of his steadfast view after the ODI at the Ageas Bowl in 2015 between these teams, when England were bowled out for 302 with 4.4 overs remaining, losing their last five wickets for 14 runs.
On that occasion, just three matches into England’s one-day revolution, and on the back of scores of 408 and 365, he said: “It’s not a huge thing for me that we have to bat 50 overs, it doesn’t disappoint me. We’re trying to change our process and mindset with the bat, which may take time.”
This time he said: “I’m a big fan of over-ambition,” before adding “we were miles away from it today, our skill level wasn’t good enough to take risks that early”. Again, though, he defended the mindset. He has certainly earned the right to do that. The 2015 comment talked of wanting to change England’s approach, and change they have. In a magnificent way. It’s worth recalling, too, that the match after the Ageas Bowl loss England chased down 350 with six overs to spare.
The fact they got scored 335 in Dunedin and it has prompted some criticism is just another reinforcement of where the team stands, but such are the standards they have set. Standards that demand a global trophy to show for it. They have so far missed out twice. The World T20 was a different format, but the performance in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan will linger.
“It wasn’t guys rushing down and playing really rash shots, they were decent cricket shots poorly executed. Going forward, the execution has to be better”
That was a slow death on a slow pitch against an outstanding Pakistan attack. Conditions wise – if not the quality of the bowlers, although New Zealand’s are very good – it was why the win in Wellington was so significant. England had to play a different way, a way that goes against the grain for them these days.
Was there a moment in Dunedin, before the collapse became a collapse, that they could have taken a few overs – maybe three – just to reassess? Jos Buttler’s promotion to No. 4 didn’t work, but the move was worth trying given the destructive impact such elevation achieved against Pakistan in Dubai and Nottingham, or South Africa at Bloemfontien.
One batsman falling cheaply does not have to be a sign to rein it in, but when Morgan heaved into the leg side there were still 10 overs to go. Yet Ben Stokes found deep square leg four balls later, Moeen Ali lofted to long-off and Chris Woakes to long-on. If Tom Curran could get 18 off the final over, what would one of that trio – alongside Joe Root – have been able to achieve if they had just given themselves a chance?
Following Morgan’s lead, Bairstow, who was the first man to fall in the collapse for 138 – it was not beyond the realms he could have scored 200 – said England played the right strokes, but poorly.
“We were in a very good position, but the big thing to take forward is that it’s the first time that it’s happened. From that kind of position we have gone on and scored 370-380. The way in which we have gone about scoring huge totals previously, scoring huge totals and batting teams out of the game, it’s exactly that approach.
“It wasn’t guys rushing down and playing really rash shots, they were decent cricket shots poorly executed. Going forward, the execution has to be better but the execution has been very good for a long period of time from that middle order. To get those massive scores, playing that no-fear cricket is what is going to keep us striving to take strides forward.”
That makes some sense from Bairstow and is exactly what has got England to the position of strength they are in, but there is that nagging thought that two types of collapses have now proved costly amid all the magnificent achievements of this side.
The by-product, however, is to set-up a fantastic conclusion to another engrossing series between these teams. Hagley Oval will be sold out on Saturday and the forecast is good. In terms of World Cup preparation, it’s not a bad time to have a winner-takes-all match. New Zealand overcame their semi-final curse in 2015, but have since lost deciding matches against South Africa (at home) and India (away). England, meanwhile, will find it hard to escape that semi-final against Pakistan before they have the chance at another knockout match.
The decider of a bilateral one-day series cannot replicate the significance of a global tournament, but it’s as close as the teams will come. In reality, the most important one-day internationals at the moment are going on in Zimbabwe. But from England’s point of view, Bairstow believes they have already shown the steel for such scenarios in the last two series by winning tight matches even though the series haven’t been on the line.
“Absolutely. It’s huge,” Bairstow said. “The way the guys reacted to situations over the last two ODI series helps. You can look back at the way we closed it out in Sydney and in Wellington, when the guys have been asked to stand up whether chasing down a total or closing it out with the ball. If it’s not meant to be, we will learn from it and take it into the next series. The World Cup’s not tomorrow, or in two days, it’s in 16 months. This is part of the journey, it’s about getting it right for then.”
Bairstow is right. In a year’s time the result of Saturday’s match will have receded from memory – some may say in a week’s time – but it’s a pressure situation in which the team will be tested. And the sort of match where a collapse could prove costly.