Just over 7,500 miles away in Harare, Zimbabwe, Australia and South Africa were outlining their credentials as World Cup favourites in a blistering One Day International game that saw 655 runs posted in a little over 96 overs. The South African pairing of Francois Du Plessis and AB De Villiers both scored hundreds at a strike rate of over 100 to ensure their side cantered home with more than three overs to spare. The game acted as a perfect snapshot for the modern game, whilst also providing a glimpse into the future.
The trend of large totals continued at a wet and gloomy Swalec stadium as India biffed their English counterparts to all parts, making 304 in their allotted 50 overs. They were indebted to a stunning century from Suresh Raina, akin to many of the innings he has played in the IPL, unashamedly ambitious and adept against all types of bowling in the absence of the regular short ball barrage he is subject to in Test matches. Raina and co had amassed 148 in the last 15 overs against English bowling seriously lacking in variety.
It is generally thought that the scores just over the mark of 300 are now thoroughly gettable since the introduction of the new rules, one of which allow only four fielders outside the circle during the powerplay overs, rather than five. The rule, captain and players alike have claimed would particularly affect spinners, who perhaps need greater protection from the big bats and biceps that belong to the modern day batsman.
From this viewpoint the hardy fans that braved the miserable Cardiff conditions may have expected more of a fight from Alistair Cook and his charges. Instead they got yet another abject display against spin bowling, in bitter conditions that are usually not suited to the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandwan Ashwin. In 19.1 overs Jadeja, Ashwin and Raina took 7 wickets for the loss of just 78 runs. New era, same old England.
The day couldn’t have started much better for the hosts, with James Anderson and Chris Woakes combining to make intelligent use of the new ball. After 5 overs of wafting outside his off stump the beleaguered Shikhar Dhawan finally edged a Woakes delivery through to Buttler and he was swiftly followed by Virat Kohli, who drove his third ball straight to Cook at Mid-off. It was hard to blame Kohli for his overt positivity after a torrid summer, and you feel in time his obvious one-day talent will rise swiftly to the fore in this series and beyond. 19 centuries at the tender age of 25 screams that that will be the case.
With India slightly reeling at 19-2 it was left to Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to rebuild in a brisk fashion until the ever-dependable James Tredwell had the former stumped and the latter caught at long-off in quick succession, Sharma losing concentration in all too typical fashion. Yet it was Raina and Dhoni that punished the England bowlers with a 144-run partnership, plundering 62 runs off the batting powerplay alone. Chris Jordan compounded England’s problems with an 11-ball over that saw five wides. Jordan’s performances against India have been littered with erratic spells, something that will be a grave concern, especially given Steven Finn’s disastrous Ashes tour just months ago.
Chris Woakes and James Tredwell both performed in an admirable manner, but India had seized the advantage going into the interval against England’s one dimensional bowling. On an eagerly anticipated debut Alex Hales showed his worth, punishing the Indian pace attack both on the front and back foot. Cook appeared less comfortable, and it was his dismissal, LBW to Mohammad Shami, that sparked a monumental collapse. In the same over Ian Bell left a delivery that cannoned into off-stump, and soon after Joe Root would join him in the pavilion as he failed to keep out a jaffer from Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
England’s collapse prompted Dhoni to use his trump cards, and they did not disappoint. Hales, who had become bogged down due to the dismissal of his colleagues, top edged Ashwin straight into the ever-darkening sky, before Buttler chipped Jadeja meekly to cover. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes rallied briefly, yet both holed out as India’s ominous total slowly slipped away. By the time Tredwell was dismissed by Ashwin England had gone from 54-0 to 161 all out, failing to chase a score of over 250 for the ninth consecutive time. The more England play, the more the same questions keep popping up.
Is too much faith being placed in test regulars such as Cook, Bell and Root? Why are James Taylor and Gary Ballance, both with averages over 50 and strike rates above 80 in List A cricket, being left out? Has Hales been brought in a year later than he should have been? Is there enough faith being placed in the talented Lions squad? Why have the all-round skills of Ravi Bopara been discarded with so abruptly? How do we deal with our inability to play spin in the middle overs? Where is the variation in our own bowling?
England may consider themselves fortunate that this World Cup will not take place on the subcontinent, but a team in such disarray without a clear game plan when chasing will struggle to have any resonating impact on the biggest one day stage of them all. You can’t help but get the feeling it will be another opportunity squandered?