By Marcus North
Following a winter of discontent Down Under, where England have looked half-decent in patches and pretty ordinary in others, this month of white-ball cricket is a crucial period for the national team, because while the Ashes were the main dish on the menu, there is an added emphasis now on how they fare in the white-ball world. This really is the business that Trevor Bayliss was brought in for back in 2015.
Since the World Cup three years ago, no side has enjoyed such a dramatic change in fortunes – in any format of the game – as England have in one-day cricket. During that tournament, that side, coached and led by Peter Moores and under the direction at the top of the table from Paul Downton, were simply toothless.
That’s not really a slight intended for Moores or Downton, but their objectives just weren’t clear. When Andrew Strauss came in as Director of Cricket there was a clear remit placed on improving the make-up of the white-ball set-up and since then England have looked imperious: making big totals; chasing big totals.
They are comfortable with every area of their game. All bases are covered; the bowlers are quick up front and tight at the death, while the batters compile and pass 300 with nonchalant ease.
There is a quiet confidence with everything they do. Eoin Morgan backs every player and there appears to be a very strong partnership forming between himself and Bayliss. If Jason Roy hadn’t delivered the bulk of the runs on Sunday, the skipper and coach would have had the faith that someone else would step up. When Morgan won the toss, the skipper was super confident that his players would not baulk under the pressure of chasing a big score.
To say they never take a backward step would be doing them a bit of a disservice because while they can be quite gung-ho, they do know when to rein it in and work the field, as they did in Melbourne when they took advantage of the gaps left in the huge MCG outfield.
The story of Jason Roy tells you a lot about this England set-up. Last summer, he was dropped during the Champions Trophy. Under a previous regime, it might have taken him some time to gather the runs and the faith of the selectors for a recall. But he went back to Surrey, got his head down and went big.
He was called back into the squad for the end-of-summer series against the West Indies and that was that. It sends out a positive message: yes, if you aren’t doing the business you won’t play and someone else will come in, but it doesn’t mean your international career is over.
While Roy’s innings was of course mightily impressive, you cannot underplay the role that Joe Root played out there. The Test captain has endured a tough few months. Never out of nick but then never really in it, he has looked tired when facing the pressures of a media circus that comes with an Ashes battle but at the ‘G’ he looked a million dollars, allowing Roy to play his natural game with ease while working the singles and waiting for the bad ball.
It was a wonderful knock and he deserved to reach his hundred – although I would imagine a personal milestone was the least of his concerns.
With 2019 in mind one thing is for certain, Australia know how to turn up at major tournaments. That’s perhaps the final piece of the jigsaw which this fantastic England side needs to find.