Yesterday was another reminder that English cricket has been turned on its head. Ten to twenty years ago we used to win test series at a canter (bit of a generalisation but you catch my drift) and then get pummelled in the subsequent ODIs; therefore limited overs contests were utterly forgettable and very much after the Lord Mayor’s show.
I remember those days fondly. The test team was settled and usually successful. There was consistency of selection, a core of experienced players (some of whom were genuinely world class), and winning white ball contests was very much the next frontier to conquer.
Our ODI side on the other hand was a bit of a joke. And it always seemed to include a bunch of randoms from county cricket who’d play one or two games and then disappear from the reckoning all together. I’m talking about you Neil Smith, Vince Wells, Alex Wharf, Dougie Brown, Paul Franks, Jim Troughton, and Stephen Parry. Plus, of course, there were many, many, more.
These days the randoms appear in the test team, which seems to feature a plethora of stop-gaps, has-beens, never-wases, never going to be good enoughs, and “not him again”s. Meanwhile the ODI side is settled, confident, oozing with talent, and breaking records.
The bowling isn’t perfect but the batting is a bit reminiscent of Australia’s World Cup winning sides in the 1990s. Damn good players like Stuart Law and Michael DiVenuto couldn’t get a game in the same way that Alex Hales (a man with a healthy average of 37 and an excellent strike rate of 95) can’t get a game now. There’s strength in depth from 1 to 8 and the management are blessed with several different options.
Although this England ODI team still has to prove it can win ugly and in different ways – having more testosterone than the opposition isn’t always a recipe for success – it’s undoubtedly fun to watch. And we deserve our tag as current World Cup favourites.
Breaking records come easily to this lot. Yesterday was England’s highest ever ODI chase yet it seemed entirely predictable and expected. It seemed like just another day at the office. And whereas our test batsman can hardly buy a three figure score these days, tons for our white ball wonders flow like wine at a wedding. It’s remarkable.
Yesterday’s superb chase in Barbados, which came hot on the heels of Chris Gayle’s entertaining comeback, included two contrasting and equally delicious centuries. Jason Roy bludgeoned his way to a most violent hundred, whereas Joe Root caressed and calculated his way to a masterful ton.
First let’s talk about Root. It seems insane to me that some people question his place in the side because his career strike-rate is “just” 87. There might be a debate about his place in the T20 team but he should always be the first name on the team sheet in 50 over cricket. After all, if England do want to win in different conditions then an intelligent player like Root is an absolute must. He’s the glue that holds the innings together.
What’s more, it’s a fallacy to claim that Root’s strike rate is poor. It’s currently 87. That’s better than Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, and only a smidge worse than Virat Kohli’s. Oh, and did I mention that Root averages a brilliant 52 in ODIs? That’s simply world class. Plus he’s ranked 4 in the batsman rankings. In this writer’s opinion Joe Root is England’s best batsman in any form of the game that lasts longer than 4 hours.
And now we come to Jason Roy. I think we can now place him in that elite bracket of top ODI players. His career average is still below 40 but on his day he’s simply amazing. He plays ‘great’ innings in a similar way to his one-time mentor and cheerleader Kevin Pietersen. His 180 in Melbourne, for example, was one of the best white ball innings I’ve seen.
Yes there are still consistency issues with Roy – he’s made 3 centuries in the last year but just a single half-century and 14 scores below fifty – but there’s something irrestistible about his strokeplay. He drives and pulls magnificently and hits the ball so cleanly. One of his cover drives yesterday was so handsome that I made my 8 year old (whom I’m teaching to play cricket for the first time) watch it over and over again.
Obviously there are now people calling for Roy to open in test cricket too. Am I one of them? I’m afraid not. Not yet anyway. A couple of years ago, when Roy first emerged on the international scene, I went a little bit over the top after one of his blistering cameos and argued that he could indeed play test cricket. However, I soon backed off when I saw a bigger sample of his batting.
Is Roy talented enough to play at the highest level? Sure he is. You can’t play shots like Roy without having elite talent. However, I’m not sure he has either the temperament or the technique.
People tend to remember the brilliant innings but forget the times Roy’s bowled neck and crop (with either a big gap between bat and pad or a crooked bat rather than a straight one). And they forget the times he fails to produce for long periods. Before yesterday Roy had only averaged 24 over the last 8 months. His ODI average remains under 40 for a reason you know.
However, whenever I argue that Roy isn’t ready for test cricket, his advocates have a very compelling response: “would you rather have Roy or Jennings facing the Aussies in the Ashes”? And at that point I tend to shut up. The cupboard is so bare that it might be worth a punt. It’s either that or play with ten men I guess.