Times have changed indeed. When was the last time England went 2-0 up in a five-match ODI series against Australia? Sunday’s easy win at The Oval game them that cushion, and now they can have faint hopes of claiming the top ODI spot, which would happen if they beat the Aussies 5-0, an extremely tough task, but not impossible for the current English squad, at least home conditions. What England did very well in the game on Sunday was never allow Australia to run away with the match. They were always there and thereabouts, ready on pounce on the opponents every time they began faltering.
England’s biggest gain was in not allowing Australia to end up with a big score on the board. They struck early, with an impressive Steven Finn sending back the dangerous David Warner cheaply. Australia never quite recovered from that setback in spite of fighting half-centuries from Shane Watson and George Bailey. Their bowling in the middle-overs was extremely stingy. Peter Forrest struggled for his 12, which took 30 balls while skipper Michael Clarke hung around for 21 balls and managed only 10. It wasn’t that the pitch was difficult to bat on, but the England bowlers were very smart in their execution. Even a part-timer like Ravi Bopara went for only 16 in his five overs apart from picking up the crucial wicket of Clarke.
Even Watson and Bailey, both of whom held the Aussie innings together, went through phases when they couldn’t score quickly enough. Watson, in particular, failed to accelerate towards the end of his innings, and ended up with a strike rate of 82. Bailey, on the other hand, began slowly before going on to accelerate towards the end overs. Still, he only managed to lift his strike to 75. David Hussey and Brett Lee came up with handy cameos, but the visitors never quite got any momentum going into their innings, as a result of which they were restricted to an average total.
If Australia wanted to compete with the modest score on board, they needed inspirational efforts from their bowlers. It were the batsmen from the home team who came up with inspirational performances though. Ian Bell, who is making the best use of Kevin Pietersen’s retirement, came up with yet another mature, neat-looking innings. In every knock that Bell has played since being recalled to the ODI squad, he has been potent, hardly looking in any kind of trouble. Good news for England, surely.
Another big plus for England from the game was the innings played by Ravi Bopara. The middle-order bat has had too many struggles with injury, so his assured presence out in the middle was heartening for the team. The good part was that he took the team to the very brink of victory.
It may be too early for England to harbour hopes of a 5-0 win, but they are in with a chance for sure.