Friday, 2 February 2007

Joyce the tonic to top-order worries

Ed Joyce’s start to international career was tentative indeed; but, in making a fantastic century against Australia, he has probably secured a starting place for the World Cup. The selectors have received much criticism for their continued selection of Joyce, who averaged only 25 in domestic limited-overs games last season and ostensibly appears better-suited to Test cricket. He took eight international innings to hit 50 but this innings, a lesson in judicious limited-overs batting and how to make the most of luck, vindicates their faith.

Though he has played just nine one-day internationals, Joyce has already had stints as an opener, a middle-order accumulator and, now, a second at the top of the innings. He failed in the first two roles, yet, since returning as opener, has displayed the class, resilience and coherent thinking for so long absent from England’s top-order play.

Joyce looked confused during his four-game stint in the middle order, diffident and unsure of the tempo his innings should seek to adopt. The result was three failures and a resilient 47, ended by a rash shot. In returning as opener, Joyce is no longer filling the void of Kevin Pietersen, with whom he shares very few traits, but the similarly compact, fellow left-handed Middlesex opener Andrew Strauss.

Strauss’s batting has been bereft of its usual inherent simplicity in Australia. His success has been built on an unobtrusive technique; yet, in the CB Series, his innings have frequently been ended by injudicious shots. In seven innings, five as opener and two in Joyce’s old position in the middle order, he has invariably scored between 12 and 28. Previously, he had scored four 50s (though only one – a 78 – above 56) in his last six innings, each as opener.

However, his batting currently seems bereft of common sense and his sole hope of a World Cup starting berth would appear to be overtaking the similarly struggling Paul Collingwood as England’s finisher. Collingwood, however, boasts over 100 ODI caps and is a superior fielder, while his nagging medium-pace was crucial in England’s win over the Kiwis at Hobart in Tasmania and could prove useful in the Caribbean.

Joyce, though, will now begin the World Cup as one of England’s few in-form players. He bats responsibly, and is seldom flamboyant, although he is happy to back away to leg to strike the ball through the offside during the Powerplay overs.

Though he is not naturally an aggressor, and more content to play around big-hitters like Mal Loye, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, an audacious pull shot when the field was up and a brilliant lofted drive over mid-off later on proved he is sufficiently assertive for limited-overs cricket. Joyce has the potential to be a superb opener for England, with his fusion of pragmatism and aggression, and his ability to adapt his game to suit the demands of his side. Should he extend his form into the World Cup, a Test call-up will be imminent.

The Irishman’s century was the first by an Englishman in ODIs since Marcus Trescothick’s 12th seven months ago. While Joyce patently has much to do before establishing himself as a worthwhile replacement, the 28-year-old’s aptitude for international cricket has now been proved.


Chrispy said...

Collingwood and Strauss are under pressure in both forms of the game and whilst Colli's fielding and medium pace may get him into the ODI side, Struass's superior record and overall class will keep him in the Test side I believe. Can Joyce fill the void left by Graham Thorpe in the Test side? Time will tell.

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