Sunday, 15 June 2008

England getting there at last...but what of Mascarenhas?

Just as the 50-over game is being increasingly overshadowed by Twenty20, England appear to be getting to grips with it. For 15 years from 1992, England were playing an archaic form of the ODI game. Since the partnership between Peter Moores and Paul Collingwood has begun, however, things have palpably improved. England's performance in the first game of this series was exceptional: convincing with bat, ball and in their team selection.

Kevin Pietersen's elevation to number three was probably a couple of years too late. He is such a feared batsmen that it makes sense to give him the maximum time to develop an innings, for all his batting genius at five against South African in 2005. Equally, it means England's top three boasts two genuinely attacking players, in Pietersen and Luke Wright (even if he failed to convince today) and Ian Bell, who is far less one-paced than given credit for and has a vast array of strokes. Dispensing with Alistair Cook, whose strike-rate in the '60s is positively 20th century, is a wise move. The only question in the top three now is whether Wright can transfer his Sussex form into the international arena. So far, he has performed terribly opening and only had success coming in lower down the order, but deserves a full series opening.

Owais Shah's brilliant 49 - off 25 deliveries - was testament to his tremendous talent. However, for all the skill he displayed at six, a batsman of his quality deserves the chance to build an innings from number four. Shah is undeniably supremely talented and, as a wonderful player of spin and a good improviser, should not be kept as low as six, as his 107 at The Oval against India last summer, and a superb 82 in Dambulla, illustrate. Since he has emerged as a vital member of the ODI side - at least the squad - in 2007, he averages 33 with a strike-rate of 80, both fairly impressive figures. Yet on only three occasions has he been allowed to bat even at five, when he averaged 46 against the West Indies. England need to get the most out of Shah, and in batting him as low as six they are failing to do that.

Ravi Bopara endured a traumatic winter but after a phenomenal start to the season for Essex, including 201* in the FP quarter-final, fully deserved a recall. Yet given Shah's superior pedigree at this level it would be prudent to swap their batting positions, moving Bopara down to six.

England's bowling performance was impressive enough too, even if Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom were below par. The jigsaw pieces are fitting into place nicely for England's ODI side. They have finally rid their top six of 'plodders' like Cook and Michael Vaughan - Bell, who has often been labeled as one, has a strike-rate of 82 since the start of the India series.

The only real conundrum is how to fit Dimitri Mascarenhas into the side. It is no exaggeration to say there has never been an Englishman able to clear the boundary with such regularity in ODIs. In 30 balls he faced in New Zealand (in Twenty20s and ODIs), seven cleared the rope. And, while his bowling may look little better than that of Collingwood and Wright, an economy rate of 4.4 from his ten ODIs to date is surprisingly effective. England need a man with such six-hitting capacity and destructive ability in their lower order, especially with Wright seemingly set to open. How to fit him in, however, is a problem that can wait while England display such ruthlessness.


Richard Lake said...

Tim - I'd agree fully with pretty much all of this. Shah has shown on a number of occasions that he can build an innings at this level and while the England set-up clearly has high hopes for Bopara, he needs to deliver or be in a less pressurised position than 4 to start with.

Bell has suffered from seeming one paced as he plays proper cricket shots. His innings in the 20:20 was a joy as it showed that the game can be played by proper batsmen. He probably works best with more unorthodox players around him. Ironically, Vaughan could have equally played the Bell role, but was surrounded by equally orthodox batsmen.

Actually, it's for that reason that I think Strauss was called up. We need a Bell or Strauss to play alongside the other batsmen and if Bell was to miss out, it would be Strauss who came back in.

As for Mascarenhas, the only person I could see him replacing in 50 over cricket would be Bopara. His bowling isn't good enough to be one of the three main seamers and with Wright and Colly, in the team in batting positions, getting him into the team becomes difficult.

Chrispy said...

Just about to post a piece Tim. I agree Shah should be batting higher, but I wonder if Bopara would be capable of an innings such as his from six. Luke Wright seems to fair better down the order than opening but deserves more opportunities. Dispensing with Cook is a good move and you know what I feel about Bell and KP, they are in the perfect positions now! Hooray!