Piers Morgan’s jibe at India’s Olympic non-performance had a fair point. “1,200,000,000 people and not a single Gold medal at the Olympics? Come on India, this is shameful. Put the bunting away & get training”, the British TV presenter had tweeted after India returned from Rio 2016 with a bronze and a solitary silver.
Virender Sehwag had a witty response. “We cherish every small happiness, But Eng who invented Cricket, & yet2win a WC, still continue to play WC. Embarrassing?” the former India opener tweeted. This column, however, is not about India’s serial Olympic meltdowns. It’s about England’s resurgence in limited-overs cricket and Morgan has “bet” Sehwag “1 million rupees to charity” if England win an ODI World Cup before India win another Olympic gold. England will host the ICC 50-over showpiece in 2019, a year before Tokyo throws open the Olympics party.
Make no mistake, England would be serious title contenders on the home patch. Their performance at Trent Bridge attested their ODI makeover. Midway into their innings—the third one-day international of the ongoing series against Pakistan—even 500 looked possible. England eventually settled for 444 in 50 overs, the highest ever in the history of limited-overs internationals. Forty-three fours and 16 sixes had been hit during the rampage. Alex Hales alone accounted for 22 fours and four sixes on his way to a 166-ball 171—an England ODI record, surpassing Robin Smith’s 167 not out. The latter had held the record for 23 years. But this England team has enough wherewithal to set new benchmarks. Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, has rightly pointed out in his Cricinfo column that this is a team with “limitless future”.
Rewind to March 2015 when England had limped out of the World Cup after losing to Bangladesh at Adelaide Oval. Peter Moores’ (then England coach) reaction to the defeat was even more dismal. He wanted “to look at the data”. Moores had been duly shown the door and Trevor Bayliss was ushered in two months after the inglorious World Cup exit. It proved to be the turning point.
White-ball cricket has progressed rapidly over the past 10 years. But England’s limited-over game had always been a throwback to the 1990s. Bayliss’ philosophy helped break the shackles. The Australian brought a proven track record with him—the experience of taking Sri Lanka to the 2011 World Cup final and guiding Kolkata Knight Riders to two IPL titles. He introduced the concept of Team England, where the whole became greater than the sum of its parts. He kept egos at arm’s length and focused on team bonding. The present group of England players enjoys each other’s success. They help each other even off the field. But, most importantly, they have the licence to play fearless cricket.
It was important for Bayliss to ensure that his players forgot history to make a fresh beginning. It was imperative to have players who didn’t see the shorter formats from Test cricket’s perspective. Hales, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and skipper Eoin Morgan are all game-changers in 50-over or T20 cricket. Joe Root is there to provide class. From Roy to Chris Woakes, England have power-hitters down to number eight. They have two very fine all-rounders in Ben Stokes and Woakes, and utility spinners like Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Mark Wood and Chris Jordan are good enough to take care of the death overs.
Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, has had a big role in the improvement, opening doors for England cricketers to play in the IPL. “The great thing about going to those tournaments is that you go as an overseas player, so you’re under pressure to perform and win games of cricket. That’s exactly what we want our players to do. Thirty-eight of the 44 players involved in the semi-finals of the World Cup had IPL experience. We should seek further opportunities to get our guys in there,” Strauss had said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. The decision paid rich dividends. England sauntered to the World T20 final in India earlier this year, playing smart cricket. They had one hand on the cup, only to be denied by Carlos Brathwaite’s heroics in the final over. They had plenty of positives to take from the event. The biggest of them was belief. One-day cricket has become an extended version of T20 these days and with the ICC Champions Trophy scheduled next year, Bayliss & Co should be happy with the progress.
Trent Bridge was an example of how imposing the current England top order could be in ODIs. They had been equally marauding against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston earlier this summer. Chasing 255 for victory, England had galloped home in 34.1 overs without losing a wicket. The fourth ODI against Pakistan last Thursday showed their resolve. On a pitch where the ball wasn’t quite coming on to the bat, England looked under pressure at 72 for four. But Stokes and Jonny Bairstow dug in with a 103-run fifth-wicket partnership and their team eventually won by four wickets with 12 balls to spare. England now lead the five-match series 4-0. Before that, they had won three out of five matches against Sri Lanka. The first ODI at Nottingham was a tie, while the third match at Bristol had been washed out. The three ODIs and three T20 internationals in India in January-February next year should be real blockbusters.
“444 reasons why this is England’s best ever group of One Day Cricketers……” former England captain Michael Vaughan had tweeted after the Trent Bridge carnage. This England team has made six 350-plus totals in one-day cricket over the past 12-odd months. They appear to be edging closer to a world title.