The whole ODI scene has gone ill for England. A thumping
defeat in the 3rd match of a 7 match series may not be immediately
fatal for England's chances at the World Cup, but an alarming tendency to
ineptitude with the bat hints at deeper structural problems in the longer
limited overs format.
The first two matches had seen long passages of play during
which England were well on top of their hosts. How they failed to get over 300
in the first match, and throw away a position of seemingly impregnable
dominance at Hobart in the 2nd we can only guess, but at Sydney they
were truly woeful from beginning almost to the end.
The rigidity of making the wicket keeper open the batting is
currently doing Prior no favours and again he failed to make a run. And again
it was a fine ball from Lee that did for him, but why is he being expected to
face fast bowlers with the new ball?
Strauss, as has been the case all tour, looked comfortable
enough but his run out with both he and Trott at the same end encapsulated all
that is currently wrong with England's batting.
And as for Morgan, he looks the part but is contriving the
oddest ways to get out. At Sydney he managed, like Trott at Hobart, to direct a
full blooded pull off a slow long hop in to the hands of mid wicket. In truth
it was a fine catch by Clarke, but Morgan had 60 rows of the stands to aim for
and emphatically missed them.
Collingwood, whose presence in the ODI side in theory gives
England the balance they will so desperately require on the subcontinent, looks
like his body is currently possessed by an 80 year old nun. His two balls
featured a lucky inside edge that just evaded his leg stump and a blind grope
at a straight ball from Doherty. Everyone goes through losses of form, but this
is more like a loss of every sensory capacity required for the most basic
fulfillment of life. I can offer no solution to his current problem more
practical than the employment of an exorcist.
Thereafter England scratched their way to a total 30 runs
short of respectability. There was even time for Tremlett to throw away his
wicket by absent mindedly failing to ground his bat, leaving Trott stranded on
84* with two overs unused.
Australia's reply had its own moments of comedy value.
Watson's ton in the 1st match was clearly the worst thing that could
have happened to him as thereafter he has looked like a wicket waiting to
happen. Sure enough Tremlett did for him cheaply.
Hobart's century maker Marsh was trapped in front, called
for a review and was surely surprised to discover the replay suggesting it
would have hit middle half way up. White seems chronically out of form and
Clarke is currently batting for the opposition. With only Haddin showing any
fluency England began to believe they could somehow get back into the match.
When the gritty keeper chipped an easy catch to long on off Collingwood the
hosts had slumped to 100-5 and we had a game on our hands.
But this was a temporary illusion. David Hussey is a much
underrated earnest battler and the situation was tailor made for him. With no
pressure on the scoring rate he was able to busy himself with ones and twos as
Strauss failed to attack with Tremlett. Shorn of his other strike bowlers in
Anderson, Broad and Swann, a diet of Yardy and the commendable but hardly
threatening Collingwood was not what the doctor ordered.
Smith, true to type, did manage to toss away his wicket in
pointless fashion just as the game looked won, briefly raising England's
spirits but a mundane ODI got the finish England deserved as Hussey and
Hastings cantered to victory.
People will speculate about tiredness, will offer the excuse
of missing players (Pietersen was unavailable through unspecified injury to go
with the front line bowlers) and may even suggest that the whole series is
something of an anticlimax after the thrills of the Ashes. But in truth,
England's batsmen are so far away from any kind of limited overs form that the
situation looks bleak.
It could all change. Pietersen and Morgan could score
heavily at Adelaide, Bell may even get to open one day, and Strauss might just
go on to convert a good start into an anchoring hundred. For sure the Aussies
look vulnerable with both bat and ball, but no matter how well England's second
string bowlers compete, no side will defend 214 on a regular basis.
I've been told by hundreds of listeners that it doesn’t
actually matter. England won the Ashes and frankly who cares about these ODIs?
What really counts is India’s test tour of England in the summer.
Well, we on Test Match Sofa are about to embark on a 30 game
World Cup marathon. With a bit of luck it may be one of the last 50 over
tournaments ever staged. If England keep up their current batting form I will
be reporting on far more humiliating defeats than the three we've suffered at
the hands of the number one ODI side in the world. Bangladesh won’t be the
worst of it. Ireland? Netherlands? It could be a long dark teatime of the soul.