England's metamorphosis in ODI cricket

Once inventors, England had been left behind. With the world around it embracing wider willows and scoring runs at breakneck speed, England was trapped in a time warp. The team needed a facelift.

In between 2013 and 2015 , Joe Root made 1418 runs at a strike rate of 78.99, but in the last two years, he has scored 1875 runs with a far better strike rate of 92.36. His ODI average has been a staggering 69.09 since the start of 2016, with 16 50-plus scores in 26 innings.   -  REUTERS

After becoming the first team to qualify for the semifinals of the 2017 Champions Trophy, England has emerged as one of the favourites to win the eight-nation tournament. But it wasn't always like this — its ODI side has suffered through several stages of ridicule and a slew of losses before giving a strong account of itself.

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It was the summer of 2011. At Colombo's Premadasa Stadium, Sri Lanka made light work of England's 229, terminating its World Cup campaign by 10 wickets. The defeat, coming as it did in the quarterfinal, was difficult to digest. Although a mixed run, Andrew Strauss and his men had stuttered their way to the business end of an ICC event, raising hopes of a summit clash, only to bungle, once again.

Four years later, Down Under, with the conditions being much more conducive to its strengths, England fancied a crack at that elusive champion tag again. After losing to arch-rival Australia and New Zealand, it bullied its way past minnows Scotland and Afghanistan before the familiar meltdown in a must-win match against Bangladesh saw England crash out.

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The two slumps had one common thread — the lack of high scores that could figure in the top 10 list. In 2011, England's 338/8 against India — the match ended in a tie — and 327/8 against a weak Ireland, made it to the list of highest totals in the tournament. In the 2014-15 edition, though, the Eoin Morgan-led outfit failed to make the cut.

In the seven matches at the 2011 World Cup, the overall average of the English batters was 30.71 with only one century and 12 half-centuries. Four years later, the average, from six games, had dropped to 27.77 with two centuries but only five half-centuries. If the batsmen made 1720 runs in the sub-continent, they could raise only 1250 runs in Australia and New Zealand during the marquee event.

Once inventors, England had been left behind. With the world around it embracing wider willows and scoring runs at breakneck speed, England was trapped in a time warp. The team needed a facelift.

Its sloppy record in limited-overs cricket could be put down to the conditions; the hanging clouds, and the pitch; live green grass on the wicket. Of the top 100 ODI totals until the 2015 ICC World Cup, only six had been made in England. In a spread of all-time highest run scorers in ODI cricket, only two English batsmen — Alex Hales and R. A. Smith — feature in the top 50. While Smith's 167 came against Australia in 1993, Hales smashed 171 against Pakistan in 2016.

But in the list of all-time highest scorers in a Test innings, England's first entry is L. Hutton (in sixth position), with as many as 16 batsmen making the cut. The difference between the ODI and Test statistics is stark.

For the longest time, England batsmen, especially in the ODIs, were in a dilemma — whether to hit through the line or shoulder arms. But being brought up on a healthy diet of swing and seam bowling meant they were found out when the team travelled overseas. Over the last three decades, England's win/loss ratio (1.049) has been better than only Sri Lanka (0.968) and New Zealand (0.902). In the 2000s, the only Test playing nation with a worse win/loss record than England (0.900) was West Indies (0.764).

It is probably true that when the likes of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were still part of the ODI set-up, the sense of urgency — a key trait in limited-overs cricket — was amiss. The staple diet of glorious late-cuts and sumptuous cover drives lacked the flavour of expansive heaves and audacious switch hits. Their inability to score freely illustrated the team's proclivity to succumb to slow passages of play instead of hitting out of the rut. A flashy century or a big win was an exception, not the rule.

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But the last two years tell a different tale. Eoin Morgan's side has skyrocketed to the top of win/loss record, with 29 wins and 14 losses from 46 matches, indicating how good England has become in ODI cricket.

The fact that the country's one-day pitches have been more batsman-friendly over the past few seasons has contributed to the team's new aggressive approach. It has shed the safety-first mindset, as reflected by the current crop of players. Flamboyant strikers like Alex Hales, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes form the yolk of the new side. These are batsmen of dashing disposition and are not afraid of putting bowlers to the sword.

That languid demeanour is a thing of the past. The power-packed batting isn't a standalone display, though, with England's calm and composed vice-captain Joe Root lending himself to the bravado of the new team. In between 2013 and 2015 , Root made 1418 runs at a strike rate of 78.99, but in the last two years, he has scored 1875 runs with a far better strike rate of 92.36. His ODI average has been a staggering 69.09 since the start of 2016, with 16 50-plus scores in 26 innings.

This 50-over flourish has translated into desired results for the team. In the summer following its embarrassing exit from the 2015 World Cup, England registered its first 400-plus ODI total, its highest run chase and highest match aggregate. In the last 13 ODI innings where it has batted first, England has posted 300-plus totals on 11 occasions.

The limited-overs squad, through its exploits with the bat, has proved that it isn't a novice in white-ball cricket any more. The coloured clothing, floodlights and hard, flat wickets have become the order of the day, as England isn't indifferent to these changes. It is finally enamoured of the format's brilliance.

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