A five-match series, whatever the format, gives everyone a good idea of what the contesting teams can and cannot do. At the moment, with just one game to go in the one-day international series between England and Australia, the verdict seems quite clear: England are the team to beat in ODI cricket, and Australia have some distance to go to catch up with their old rivals.
It’s 4-0 to England, and looking at the way the four games have gone, 5-0 seems a distinct possibility.
But the fact that Australia’s poor run has coincided with the absence of five of their stalwarts – Steve Smith and David Warner in the batting department and Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood with the ball – isn’t lost on anyone.
This was Australia’s first international outing since the Cape Town crisis, under new coach Justin Langer, and it hasn’t gone well at all. Each of England’s wins has been comprehensive.
Australia might have felt they were in the game the first time out, scoring 214 and then picking up seven wickets before England overhauled the target, but the home side always had the target in their sights. After that, it has been one-way traffic. England put up 342/8 and then the world-record 481/6 in the next two games, winning by 38 and 242 runs respectively, while the last game was also one-sided, with the chase of 311 pulled off with 32 balls in hand.
To be fair to Australia, though they haven’t always batted as a team, individuals have put in strong efforts – Shaun Marsh most of all, with a battling 131 in the second game and 101 in the fourth, when Aaron Finch also scored 100.
It’s not easy to beat this England side in the big-bashing game, so Australia would have hoped for better performances from their inexperienced bowling unit. All their bowlers, bar Nathan Lyon in his only outing and Ashton Agar, have gone for plenty, forcing a fair bit of chopping and changing. As a result, the English batsmen have had a ball.
The series has been decided by the batsmen, the English batsmen, that is, and a look at the scorers’ chart shows how. With a set top six – though Eoin Morgan, the captain, missed the second game due to injury – everyone has gone about their work smartly. In all, they have hit four centuries and seven half-centuries to Australia’s three and three, and every batsman has had a good time: Jason Roy (303 runs), Jonny Bairstow (288), Alex Hales (212), Jos Buttler (165), Morgan (151) and Joe Root (103).
For Australia, there has been little to remark on outside of Marsh, Finch and Travis Head, who has hit two half-centuries.
Add to that the performance of the English spin twins – Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid – and it’s easy to see where the problems for Australia began and ended. Ali has eight wickets at an economy rate of 5.03, while Rashid has 11 at 5.94.
To put it simply, Australia must change these numbers around almost completely to get themselves a consolation win. More of their batsmen must score big and score quick, and the bowlers must find a way to check the scoring – the runs and the rate – when England bat. Easier said than done, though, because we are talking not only about the No.1 ODI side in the world but the side that has redefined ODI batsmanship in recent times.