Prior to England’s tour of Sri Lanka, it had been widely assumed that Alex Hales would be the man to partner Alastair Cook at the top of the order. The Notts Outlaw had endured a relatively subdued start to ODI cricket but an impressive record in the T20 format suggested that he and Captain Cook would lead from the front in the build up to the 2014 World Cup.
Hales had been identified as a key performer in England’s one day line up and his presence and ability to score runs at a devastating pace would, in theory, help to free up his skipper to bat through the innings. However, from the moment that Moeen Ali scored his sixth boundary from six legitimate deliveries in England’s warm up match with Sri Lanka A, it was clear that the Worcester all rounder would usurp his younger team mate.
Supporters of Hales would have been disappointed with the decision but ultimately, it was one that was hard to argue against as Moeen completed his first international one day hundred and gave his side the chance of an unlikely victory.
The 27 year old scored at a good pace: His 119 came from just 87 balls and included 11 fours and five sixes – a rate that Hales himself would be content with. But while Moeen was fluent in answering a big question at the top of the order, Alastair Cook continued a miserable run of form.
Cook’s bare stats of 10 from 17 balls don’t come close to telling the full story of a painful innings. Given out twice in the first over but overturned on review, the skipper limped to double figures before missing a straight one from the part time spin of Tillakaratne Dilshan.
England’s captain had been under fire before this series after a subdued English summer against Sri Lanka and India. The selectors have stubbornly stood by their skipper but if Cook continues to fail in this long, seven match series, can they keep justifying his inclusion ahead of the World Cup?
Through the middle order
England fans may raise further concerns when Moeen Ali is dismissed cheaply – which he will be – as the Sri Lanka ties continue. Much of the criticism of England’s ODI side was fired at the pedestrian opening partnership of Cook and Ian Bell but now we have Bell at number 3, waiting to renew his plodding pairing with the skipper as soon as Moeen falls.
Yes, there is a need for the ‘glue’ in a side in the event of early wickets but in a game where team scores over 300 are common and totals in excess of 400 are becoming increasingly common, it’s just not good enough.
Elsewhere, it doesn’t help England’s cause that Eoin Morgan is hopelessly out of form and needs to rediscover his touch before this series is out. Meanwhile, with 65 from 62 balls as wickets tumbled around him, Ravi Bopara confirmed that his omission from the squad to face India earlier in the year was – as many suspected – clueless.
Sport lends itself nicely to clichés and the latest is to take positives from defeat. Admittedly, there were plus points in Moeen Ali’s ton and Bopara’s efforts at the death but Sri Lanka’s winning margin of 25 runs actually flattered Alastair Cook’s England.
Moeen has answered one problem at the top of the order while Ravi has proved a point yet again but while we’re trading in clichés, this result leaves more questions than answers ahead of Sunday’s second match.