Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Things for England to ponder ahead of the knockouts. Eoin Morgan's side, for the first time really in the tournament, were under pressure in the field
Eoin Morgan's side, for the first time really in the tournament, were under pressure in the field
Jos Buttler's stare lingered in the direction of Dawid Malan. He had failed to back up a throw from the deep, allowing South Africa to scamper an extra run, and Buttler was clearly not impressed. Two balls later, Buttler himself conceded an extra single when he had an unnecessary shy at the stumps. England, for the first time really in the tournament, were under pressure in the field.
It was always going to happen at some stage. England had dominated West Indies, Bangladesh and Australia with the ball and then professionally seen off Sri Lanka's case in their fourth group game. They took at least three wickets in the Powerplay in all of those matches and then continued to take wickets through the middle overs, bowling West Indies, Australia and Sri Lanka out inside the 20 overs. The only time England didn't take all ten wickets was against Bangladesh when they took nine.
In some ways, then, this game was the sort of test England's bowlers needed before the knock-out stages. They only took one Powerplay wicket. They only took one more wicket during the middle overs. They were faced with two set batters at the death rather than, as in the previous four games, tailenders trying to scrabble what they could. There was a short boundary on one side that was incredibly hard to defend and a Sharjah pitch that was slightly better for batting than in other games during the tournament. It was a proper examination.
There were certainly areas that England need to improve on for the knockout stages. Their fielding was fallible with at least three additional singles given away in the last three overs and at least two boundaries that should have been stopped – one by Adil Rashid and the other by Chris Woakes – earlier in the innings. England's fielding has been excellent all tournament but will need to be sharper than it was today in the semi-final.
There were some poor deliveries too, allowing Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram easy boundaries. There was a full toss from Woakes and a slot ball in his fourth over. There was a missed yorker from Chris Jordan in the final over of the innings. All of those deliveries were hit-me-balls that went for six. Mark Wood was a little rusty in his first game back from injury as well, offering up a number of deliveries that were a touch too short, allowing van der Dussen and Markram to sit back and hit them towards the short boundary.
But while Woakes conceded 43 and Wood 47 from their four overs, it would be unfair to say England's bowling was particularly poor. Aside from a few loose balls, the seamers generally hit the sort of good, hard length that has been difficult to get on top off in Sharjah. They tried about everything they could to protect the short boundary too, varying their lines depending on what end they were bowling. Jordan bowled well enough in his two overs at the death, nailing a couple of yorkers, while Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid kept things tight in their combined eight overs.
While England's execution was not perfect, South Africa's was excellent. Credit must be given to Markram and van der Dussen for some brilliant hitting and skill to manufacture runs. They attacked the short boundary at every opportunity – Markram remarkably hit Wood for six over third man from a ball that would have easily passed by leg-stump – and van der Dussen ramped and flicked to strange areas of the ground. When they weren't finding the boundaries, they managed to scamper twos to the longer side of the ground. It was a superb partnership.
Given this defeat, and the injury to Jason Roy which appears to have ended his World Cup, there are things for Morgan to ponder ahead of England's semi-final on Wednesday.
What could England have tried differently? Aside from tightening up on the few poor deliveries, perhaps Eoin Morgan could have bowled Liam Livingstone early. The Lancashire spinner bowled four cheap overs against Sri Lanka but did not get to bowl at all today. Given the struggles of Woakes and Wood, and the relative success of Moeen and Rashid, giving England's third spinner an over and taking the pace off the ball might have been a better option than returning to Woakes or giving Wood four overs on his return to the side.
Perhaps England's fast-bowlers could have varied their pace more too, bowling slower balls into the pitch. Wood, in particular, tried that rarely, preferring to bowl pace on deliveries. That may have helped South Africa's batters on a pitch that was coming onto the bat a little more than in previous matches. Otherwise, it is difficult to think of what else England might have tried. Sometimes, when a pair are motoring as van der Dussen and Markram were, bowlers have to take their punishment.
Given this defeat, and the injury to Jason Roy which appears to have ended his World Cup, there are things for Morgan to ponder ahead of England's semi-final on Wednesday. Without the injured Tymal Mills, they didn't have a left-arm option in their attack today. The balance of their side is also batter heavy, with Moeen and Livingstone designated as the team's “fifth” bowler, and this was a game when Morgan may have benefited from the luxury of an extra seamer.
To address both those issues, David Willey could replace Roy. If England opt for the same balance to their side, though, Jonny Bairstow is likely to move up to open with Sam Billings coming into the middle order. That would mean dropping a fast-bowler to get Willey's left-arm angle in. Given the excellence of Woakes so far in this tournament, the key role that Jordan plays at the death and the added pace that Wood gives England's attack, it is hard to see any of them being left out.
More than anything, Morgan will hope his bowlers and fielders tighten up in their next match. This was not a calamitous performance with the ball by any means but nor was it as good as it could have been. That is perhaps understandable given England's bowlers have hardly been put under any pressure in the tournament before this game. In many ways, this was the best time for it to happen, to remove any sense of complacency and focus minds before the knockout stages.
England did not want to lose this game, they did not want their bowlers to come under pressure, but in the long-run, it may actually do them some good.