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Cricket news - England - very good or very lucky?
Depending on who you listen to or who provides your kicks on Twitter, England are either very good or very lucky. Sometimes they are both, and to illustrate that let's first use the medium of Ross Taylor.
Taylor is a huge LBW candidate. Statistically, the average ODI batsman gets out leg before 8% of the time, according to CricViz. But this right-hander gets his pad in the way a whopping 14% of the time.
Anecdotally, there was an ODI earlier this year against India when he was convinced not to take a DRS review by his batting partner and captain Kane Williamson. The impact was high, above the knee roll and, according to the ball-tracker, comfortably passing over the stumps. But it was Taylor. Both he and his partner figured it was probably the right call. New Zealand, chasing 253, went on to lose the match.
Now, Taylor averages 50 against England, with more hundreds against them than any other opponent (five). This side, specifically these English players, were on the receiving end of his career-best 181 not out last year and, among the scars, realised they lost sight of bowling at that front leg. They rectified that here: all four of Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood maintaining this line, in their own unique ways.
To the first ball of the 16th over, Taylor lets out his frustration on a rare half-volley. Williamson is backing up to a fault. The connection on the straight drive is sweet, but Wood's follow-through and reaction to extend his arm results in fingertips on the ball, which skips into the non-striker's stumps.
Taylor was kept in check, 33 balls for his 22 runs and getting tetchy. Williamson sensed it. "The English bowlers put us under pressure," said Williamson, post-match, "and I don't know whether that run out came from that."
Wood, though, offers a counter-point: "He doesn't know how unlucky he is because I've got the smallest hands for a bloke you've ever seen!" He also does not bite his nails. A stark reminder of just how bad a habit it is given the extra millimetre of reach ended up seeing off a player who had contributed 32% of New Zealand's World Cup runs.
A very good spell at one batsman, an even luckier dismissal of a better one.
Let's stay with Taylor. Because yet again he is being tied down, this time by Plunkett. After three dots to start the 17th over, a tuck around the corner into what was a vacant area behind square on the leg side brings a run. Perhaps even two. Upon turning at the other end, Taylor notices England's weakest fielder Adil Rashid haring towards the ball and makes the understandable decision to go for that second.
Rashid is comfortably the weakest, but relative to a team of greyhounds. And in being the weakest, he is pushed the hardest on training days, especially for position-specific drills. While Jason Roy is put through his paces with flat shots expected at point and Ben Stokes works on the very limits of his ability on the very limits of the boundary, the leg spinner works on running onto balls and, crucially, picking up and throwing (side-arm) in as close to one motion as possible, often from a relatively "blind" position, as is usually the case for anyone brought into play from fine leg.
Whenever Rashid duffs these up in training, he's ribbed incessantly. But when he gets it right, the praise is greater. He's as much a confidence fielder as he is a confidence bowler. Still, he doesn't always pull off the pick-up and throw at a quick enough pace in matches. You'd say he's a 50-50 shot.
However, the quality of the ground-fielding and subsequent throw is such that a dive only puts the Taylor within two feet of the crease when Jos Buttler collects and removes the bails.
A very good piece of work from Adil Rashid, a very lucky combination of all facets perfectly in sync.
Has a toss been more crucial this World Cup? A fresh surface at Durham looked immaculate and when Williamson called incorrectly, Morgan was always batting first. Peculiarly though, the pitch played well for the first part of England's innings and decidedly different for the rest of the match.
Williamson reckoned it "probably changed about sort of the halfway stage". Morgan agreed with the timing but had no idea why the change came about. " I don't think I have played on a wicket that has changed as dramatically as that," he mused.
If you're searching for a "why", the scorecard is the last place to look. But it does show you when and how.
After 31 overs, England were 200 for 2. In the next 19 overs, they managed just 105 more for the loss of six. New Zealand bowled exceptionally well, relying almost solely on cutters and pace-off deliveries in this period upon discovering the pitch would respond kindly to both. They backed up in the field and, were it not for balls just missing the stumps as they skewed off edges or aerial shots just evading the reach of those inside the 30-yard circle, England could have been bowled out for considerably less than their 305-8.
Yet, in Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, they have two of the best players to make use of favourable conditions. Their opening stand of 123 was their 10th in ODI cricket, achieving that number in 35 goes together, one shy of the record set by Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. Three of those have come at this very World Cup.
On numbers alone, there have been no better international 50-over pair with at least 30 innings by each other's side. They average 67.7 together, 15 more than the next highest duo, and both possess individual strike-rates in excess of 105. Essentially, for those opening 25 to 30 overs at Durham, you could not have picked a better two, even if you were to delve into history. It was because of Roy and Bairstow that England were able to succeed by 119 runs.
A very good, unsurpassed opening pair, a very lucky coincidence they were out there for the best period to bat.
Martin Guptill, he of not very many recent runs, was caught down the leg side. It was a quick delivery from Archer, one of those where usually a simple tickle gets you four. Typical of the form he is in, Guptill does not get enough of a tickle and offers a catch down the leg side, which Buttler duly takes.
Only, because of the angle of the delivery, Buttler has to put in a full-length dive to his left. The type you might see David de Gea pulling out to spare his bottom corner. Or indeed one you might see Buttler practising during the hour he dedicates to keeping at every training session. Like the training session in Southampton, the day before England's match against West Indies, when it sheeted down with rain and only Buttler braved it to work on his footwork and handling. His keeping at the start of this World Cup was tetchy and, now, is somewhere back to his best.
A very good work ethic and execution combining to take what is generally considered a very lucky dismissal.
Depending on your point of view - essentially, whether you support them or not - you can look at the events that punctuated Wednesday's match in Durham and credit England or luck. On reflection, you might say "lucky" pips "good" when you consider Henry Nicholls ill-judged LBW dismissal - the ball was passing over off stump - or that Lockie Ferguson, one of the bowlers of the tournament, was absent through injury.
Even beyond this match, you could take umbrage with the gods for allowing England fresh or close-to-fresh surfaces for all nine of their group matches because of their duty as hosts to play at every venue. Also, that none of their matches have been affected by rain.
Or, you could look at the number one ranked ODI side coming into a home World Cup winning six of nine games to finish third and wonder if, actually they may have underperformed.
That, faced with two must-win games against India and New Zealand, they met the pressure head on to triumph by comfortable margins. No team scores as quickly as their 6.39 per over and none can match their 8.74 rate at the death. They have the most 300+ scores when batting first - this one being their fifth - and the most individual hundreds (seven). No side has taken more wickets with balls above 140kph. On many fronts, they are setting the standard.
Anyway, it is up for you to decide which camp you're in. Yes, they have been very good and, yep, very lucky. But next week, the best ODI side England have ever had will contest the country's first World Cup semi-final in 27 years.
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