Ian Bell’s 74-ball 31 was an excruciating, unassertive innings against willing but limited opposition. He was incapable of hitting boundaries, despite batting primarily during the Powerplay overs. Had he seamlessly given the strike to the more obtrusive Kevin Pietersen that would have been fine; instead, he proved incapable of even picking up singles, leaving Pietersen with just a ball or two an over. It was not an isolated incident; rather, the latest disappointing showing from England’s top three. Ed Joyce and Michael Vaughan, meanwhile, contributed just seven runs between them.
So England’s top-order problems are twofold. Save for Joyce against Kenya and Canada, they have recently been incapable of making substantial scores at the top of the order. To compound this, the few runs they have been making have been scored far too slowly. While other top nations are routinely 100-1 after 20 overs, England tend to be nearer 80-3.
Vaughan, given that he is captain and is doing little worse than Joyce and Bell, must be persevered with, and told to bat through the innings, rather than attempt to exploit the opening overs and succeed only in getting himself out. Joyce scored a fine hundred against Australia two months ago but, save for some runs against the minnows, still appears unsure of himself. Bell was England’s finest ODI batsman in 2006 but has regressed of late; as highlighted against Ireland, he can find it very difficult to consistently score singles.
Andrew Strauss was rightly dropped at the start of the World Cup but the time has come for his return. He has palpable class and pedigree and, though hardly explosive, probably utilises the fielding restrictions better than any other member of the top three. Hopefully, the break will have reinvigorated him.
Who should he replace? Probably Joyce, though it is a very marginal decision. What England really need, of course, is a Marcus Trescothick-like figure to attack from the off. At the risk of saying ‘I told you so’, the answer is Mal Loye. Thrown into tough circumstances in Australia, Loye fared reasonably well, giving England momentum with his audacious cameos and playing his finest innings in the second final; even when not making huge scores, his fearless stroke play was vital in giving the side momentum and the run rate an early boost.
Mike Selvey, writing on Shaun Tait’s World Cup impact to date, asked: “Would England select such a maverick in similar circumstances, one wonders, or would they concentrate on what a player cannot do - Monty Panesar, say, or Mal Loye - rather than what he can?” Alas, the answer is in the question; England will just have to hope Strauss is out to make for loss time and the top order can learn from Paul Collingwood’s risk-free accumulating.