It was defeat to Bangladesh in Adelaide four years ago that flicked a switch and convinced England to radically alter their approach to one-day cricket. And it was at Cardiff two years on, this time against Pakistan, that their brave new white-ball strategy failed to cope with the pressure of a global 50-over competition.
Now, under the strain of tournament play once more, England face Bangladesh in Cardiff on Saturday on the back of a defeat to Pakistan that added a little spice to each of their remaining pool games. It is time for them to prove they have developed. The party line, as ever, from Liam Plunkett was that England will “just play how we’ve been playing”, but there is a little more to it than that.
This World Cup is defying expectations. Teams look happy setting targets and squeezing. Indeed, as Australia showed against the West Indies yesterday, 280 is a very defendable score on pitches with just a little more in them than we have become accustomed to.
England’s heavy-hitting method has a place, but is not fail-safe, like it was last month against Pakistan. Then, they could be quite confident of always scoring one more run. Now, with greater pressure and different conditions, they need to adjust, as Plunkett acknowledged. They will need to be sensible against Bangladesh’s finger-spinners.
“Sometimes we’ll need to reassess, and if that means taking it a bit deeper and scoring more later on, I’m sure we’ll adapt,” he said. “We’re all smart enough to do that.”
After their 17-match home-chasing record came to an end on Monday, they have taken a few days at home — a benefit of hosting — to relax. They reassembled on Thursday and trained a day earlier than planned, but only because they knew it was set to hammer it down all day in Cardiff on Friday. Sophia Gardens has famously strange dimensions, but the pitch is fresh, unlike the one England came unstuck on two years ago, and should assist the seamers a little. Fortunately, the forecast is better tomorrow.
When Trevor Bayliss took over as head coach and England set about their revolution, the Australian — employed for his white-ball expertise — asked for two things. Jason Roy, who he had worked with at Sydney Sixers, to whack it up top and lift the fielding, and a leg-spinner. Adil Rashid was the obvious choice and has been brilliant ever since. But for a stinking patch during the Champions Trophy, Roy has been, too. It is hard to see England winning the World Cup without both firing.
But both are worth keeping an eye on in this game. With Alex Hales gone, Roy has rarely been more sure of his spot. Yet, his last game was his worst for England. Against Pakistan, he dropped a game-defining catch and was fined for his petulant behaviour. He also fell early, taking England’s review with him.
Bangladesh have a history of winding Roy up and it has never been more vital that he keeps his head. He was in brilliant form heading into the World Cup and batted sensibly against South Africa before his off-day at Trent Bridge. A method for reining he and Jonny Bairstow in — start with spin — has been deployed and the openers will be desperate to prove it will not work every time.
Rashid was the poor bowler when Roy dropped Mohammad Hafeez on eight on Monday. It derailed his day and, after five expensive overs, he was not seen again. He is troubled by his right shoulder, which has needed a series of injections and means he is not ripping his action quite like he does when at his best.
Allied with short, straight boundaries, the green pitch, Bangladesh’s ability against spin and England are considering giving him a rest. Plunkett will return and Liam Dawson will come into the equation as well. If it allowed Rashid’s shoulder to rest sufficiently, that would surely be worth it. He is indispensable later in the tournament.
It is time for England to prove that their style, with a little refining, can thrive at the biggest moments. To lose once early in a tournament you are favourites for is fine; to do so twice would be careless — and make life very tricky.
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