England’s lower gear, Stokes’ focus and Taylor on one leg

England


England completed a successful ODI spell away from home – adding victory in New Zealand the series in Australia – while the home side fought back to force a decider before slumping for the second time in a year. Both sides now break from ODI cricket, New Zealand for at least seven months, so what did we learn as the final 12-month lead-in to the World Cup approaches?

England’s batting can adapt

There was little doubt about England’s prowess on true batting pitches, but questions remained how willing they were to curb their natural instincts with the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan and two startling collapses against the swinging ball, at Lord’s and in Adelaide, as examples. The victory in Wellington on a grubby, uneven drop-in pitch was, therefore, significant with them having to assess that it wasn’t even a 270 wicket and dig their way to a defendable score. In fact, the major collapse which came in this series was a new variety: losing 8 for 46 in Dunedin having been 267 for 1. But to knock off the runs in Christchurch in such domineering fashion meant that the batting bandwagon continued to role.

Liam Plunkett plays a vital role

Led by Man of the Series Chris Woakes, England were outstanding with the new ball – never letting New Zealand get off to a flyer and twice keeping them to under three-an-over in the first 10. In three of the matches that was backed up very effectively by the spin pair of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. However, the contrast between spin and pace in the middle overs was stark: between overs 11 and 40, the spinners took 11 wickets and conceded 4.50 per over, the quicks took three wickets and conceded 5.96. Partly, that can be attributed to the spinners bowling extensively in that period, but it also highlighted the crucial role that Liam Plunkett has played in extracting life when the two new balls have become a little softer and before ‘death’ skills take over. In 2017, Plunkett was the fourth-highest wicket-taker in ODIs. He is in that World Cup starting XI, fitness permitting.

New Zealand have a problem at the top

New Zealand’s opening partnership had a shocker. The highest stand between Martin Guptill and Colin Munro in five matches was 12. It meant, in the four matches he played, Kane Williamson was exposed early. He is good enough to overcome that, but it’s an added pressure on the captain. Barring his 49 in Wellington – a worthy if lucky innings – Munro was batting in single digits. It appeared to have a knock-on effect on Guptill who, even in his two more substantial innings, could not break the shackles. Munro had showed some promise when pushed up to the opening role but against high-quality seam and swing he is vulnerable. With the 2019 World Cup in the first part of the English season, that could be a problem.

Ben Stokes can keep his focus

The start of the series marked the big comeback. Five months after the incident in Bristol that led to a not guilty plea to a charge of affray, Ben Stokes returned to international cricket. In truth it was a soft landing, a world away from the reception and scrutiny he would have received in Australia. Still, Stokes has had a lot on his plate so it wasn’t a given how seamlessly he would slot back in. Parking the debate about whether he should have been on the tour, it was a successful series for him. He almost turned the opening match with two wickets and was Man of the Match in Mount Maunganui. He was never used for his full 10 overs – and his Test workload will be interesting to watch – but he hit good pace, looked in decent nick with the bat (his determination in Wellington was impressive) and was a livewire in the field.

Ish Sodhi makes his case

At the beginning of the series, Ish Sodhi was effectively included in the squad as cover for fellow legspinner Todd Astle who was carrying a niggle. He quickly became the first-choice. Hamilton was Sodhi’s first ODI since last May, when New Zealand took a second-string side to Ireland, but was preferred throughout when the side wanted two spinners and his career-best 4 for 58 helped turn the match in Dunedin. There was some severe tap for him in Christchurch courtesy of Jonny Bairstow and there remained plenty of loose stuff thrown in, but he is a wicket-taker. Continuing to work on his batting and field could be key to whether he makes the 2019 World Cup squad.

Ross Taylor on one leg is better than some on two

It’s a decent pub debate: was New Zealand’s greatest ODI innings played by Ross Taylor in Dunedin? He is batting on another level at the moment, the unbeaten 181 followed another matchwinning hundred in Hamilton, and New Zealand will be desperate that his body stands up for at least another 18 months. Alongside Williamson he is irreplaceable in this current New Zealand era. The match he was run out in and the two he missed, New Zealand lost. Though Tom Latham showed development in the middle-order role – combining with Taylor for stands of 178 and 187 – the loss of either Taylor or Williamson is too great a burden for the team to cover.



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