Chris Waters: Great potential but England do need to be smarter in adversity

Australia's Tim Paine, center, makes runs against England.
Australia's Tim Paine, center, makes runs against England.
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ENGLAND have it all in one-day cricket.

Power up front in Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales.

The complete batsman in Joe Root. A wonderfully inventive strokemaker in Eoin Morgan.

Perhaps one of the greatest improvisers and innovators that the game has ever seen in Jos Buttler.

The silky Moeen Ali, the redoubtable Chris Woakes, the wristy Adil Rashid, and so on.

And that’s just the batting.

England's Adil Rashid celebrates with teammates after dismissing Australia's Mitchell Marsh in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP via AP

England's Adil Rashid celebrates with teammates after dismissing Australia's Mitchell Marsh in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP via AP

Bowling-wise, Moeen, Woakes and Rashid are key players, along with Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett when fit, while Tom Curran, Jake Ball and David Willey provide further options/variety.

Buttler is also a top-class wicketkeeper and Morgan a dynamic captain, while there is the small matter of a chap called Ben Stokes waiting in the wings.

In short, England have every base covered in 50-over cricket, having developed so much since being embarrassed at the last World Cup in 2015 that they will head into next year’s version on home soil as many people’s favourites.

So far, so good, but as yesterday’s three-wicket defeat to Australia in the fourth one-day international in Adelaide proved, England cannot yet be considered the finished article.

As yesterday’s three-wicket defeat to Australia in the fourth one-day international in Adelaide proved, England cannot yet be considered the finished article

Chris Waters

Granted, that term has always seemed slightly meaningless – after all, who or what could ever be considered the finished article?

But it suffices when the very good are seeking to become the very great, and to highlight inevitable scope for improvement.

England – a very good one-day side seeking to become a very great one – have skills, strike-power and star quality to burn, but they perhaps need to become just that little bit smarter to reach their potential.

It was evident yesterday when they collapsed to 8-5 after losing the toss, a position from which it is almost impossible to recover.

England's Eoin Morgan pulls a delivery from Australia in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP via AP

England's Eoin Morgan pulls a delivery from Australia in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP via AP

It was a bit like Crystal Palace going 4-0 down to Arsenal last week at the Emirates inside 22 minutes. From that point, Palace would surely have been thrilled to eventually emerge with a 4-1 defeat as opposed to an 8-0 or 9-0 drubbing.

Ditto England in terms of the fact that they ultimately lost only by three wickets, first recovering to 196 on the back of a fighting 78 from Woakes and then giving Australia just the hint of a fright by collecting seven wickets in the run-chase.

But the key point is that they were 8-5 in the first place, with Roy, Bairstow, Root and Buttler all departing for ducks.

True, conditions favoured the Australia bowlers, with the ball moving around at the start of the match in humid weather. But perhaps only Buttler was properly “got out”, edging a beauty from Josh Hazlewood that moved just a fraction to take the outside edge.

Otherwise, Roy chased a wide one from Hazlewood and carved to backward point; Hales was bowled off his pads by a ball from Pat Cummins that came back in; Bairstow drove loosely at Hazlewood and was caught behind, while Root top-edged a hook off Cummins.

At that stage, England’s lowest ODI score of 86 against Australia at Old Trafford in 2001 seemed so far away that it might only have been viewed through the Hubble Telescope. But useful 30s from Morgan, Moeen and Tom Curran, allied to Woakes’s typically resilient innings, propelled England to a total that was at least within the same galaxy as the term “competitive”.

Of course, it was never going to be sufficient and Travis Head, the former Yorkshire batsman, led the formalities with a fine 96.

Not for the first time, England’s best bowler was Rashid, whose leg-spinners yielded 3-49 from 10 overs.

The batting collapse, though, was the point of concern, and if England are indeed to become a great one-day team, one that actually wins knockout competitions as opposed to coming close to winning them, they need to be smarter and adapt to conditions.

Nine times out of 10, their fearless, attacking strokeplay pays great dividends and they win far more matches than they lose because of it.

But if that tenth time comes during a knockout tournament, as it did last summer when they lost to Pakistan in a Champions Trophy semi-final in Cardiff after failing to adjust to a slow, low turner, the spectacular firework shows count for little.

There was also another warning last summer when they crashed to 20-6 in a match against South Africa at Lord’s, rescued only by a half-century from Bairstow but ultimately losing by seven wickets.

England are still 3-1 up going into tomorrow’s final game in Perth and deserve much credit for the way that they have played.

They will no doubt realise, however, that the greatest sides are adaptable as well as aggressive.

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