Champions Trophy: England looking strong, but the middle order needs work

By Antoinette Muller 18 June 2013

England booked its spot in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy with a win over New Zealand in a match truncated to 24 overs a side. Alastair Cook was outstanding and James Anderson looked at his swing-bowling best, but the middle order’s capacity for spontaneous combustion remains a problem. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even a broken middle order can be all right when all those around them are pulling their weight. England might have snuck into the Champions Trophy semi-final by clinching a win over New Zealand on Sunday, but their middle order has a lot to answer for.

Against Sri Lanka, England lost five wickets for 36 runs, and against New Zealand they managed to lose seven wickets for a meagre 28 runs. They still managed to win the match against the Kiwis, though, sealing a 10-run win in a match cut down to 24 overs a side, but only two batsmen really managed scores of significance.

Much has been made of skipper Alastair Cook’s performances with the bat. While many believe him to be sluggish and somewhat subdued in the shorter format of the game, Cook was far from that in the match against England. He carted 64 off just 47 at the top of the order – somewhat out of character, but not entirely unexpected. It’s a shame that Cook has been pigeonholed to the role of sluggish opener, when he clearly has the ability to let loose at will. His assault against New Zealand was helped by some average bowling, but Cook’s shot selection and placement were sublime. He even managed to hit two sixes for the first time ever in his one-day international career.

“I thought that would keep you entertained,” Cook said about a rogue scoop shot he produced.

“I don’t play too much Twenty20 cricket, and actually, I think the game against India here was a rain-reduced game as well, and I managed to get a few runs. So it’s nice, isn’t it? What I found really hard today was knowing what a good score was; maybe we set ourselves a little too high at the end.”

The skipper is all too aware of his side’s fragility in the middle order, but puts it down to high targets.

“I think we lost seven wickets for 36 runs or something right there at the end. And we were looking at 180, 190. Maybe we set our sights too high. If we had set our sights a bit lower, we might have got even more. So that was, I thought, the hardest part,” Cook added.

One thing which wasn’t hard was for Joe Root to score runs. The Yorkshireman was at the top of his game and while he didn’t manage a milestone, he already averages 53.50 in one-day cricket after 14 games. To call him the next so-and-so would be unfair to his unique ability, but Root certainly has been a shining light for England. His success quite possibly lies in how simple he keeps things. Always smiling, always joking and always having fun instead of shackling himself too much analysis, Root plays the game how it’s meant to be played, something which will go a long way towards ensuring he achieves consistently.

But the hosts’ fortunes do not rest only in Root’s hands. England’s conservatism and inability to think differently could also cost them. They’ve shown no inclination to fiddle with their batting order, even when the certain situations were tailor-made for the pinch-hitting prowess of Jos Buttler. With a middle order so completely inept at applying themselves, one has to wonder when they might starting thinking of taking a more progressive approach.

England posted 169 in 23.3 overs against New Zealand, before they were all out. At one stage, it looked like England was dead set for putting 190 on the board, and while that total was enough to ensure victory against a Black Caps’ side struggling for consistency, it’s something which could cost them in future.

The Black Caps managed to bat out the overs, but fell 10 runs short of the target as James Anderson managed to return to his swinging best, picking up three wickets for 32 runs. Cook heaped praise on his pace aces for two out of their tree Champions Trophy stints.

“I think they bowled very well in two of the three games; they didn’t quite get it right at The Oval. It was outstanding setting the tone and tough to bat against. There were some good wicket‑taking balls flying around which is what you need in one‑day cricket,” Cook said of his bowlers’ performances.

Result summary

England 169 (23.3/24 overs)

Alastair Cook 64 (47), Joe Root 38 (40); Mitchell McClenaghan 5-0-36-3; Kyle Mills 4.3-0-30-4

New Zealand 159/8 (24/24 overs)

Kane Williamson 67 (54), Corey Anderson 30 (24); James Anderson 5-0-32-3, Ravi Bopara 5-0-26-2

England won by 10 runs DM

Photo: England’s Ravi Bopara (2nd R) is congratulated after dismissing New Zealand’s James Franklin during the ICC Champions Trophy group A match at Cardiff Wales Stadium in Wales June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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