England vs. South Africa – First ODI

So England faced the ODI team currently ranked number 1 by the ICC and beat them convincingly in the end. A cause for celebration, you’d assume, but everyone’s focus is already on the Champions Trophy which begins in 8 days. The side England chose for this first game is widely expected to be their starting XI in the tournament, and so the team’s performance provides a useful gauge of what we can expect over the next 4 weeks.

Strengthened Their Position

Eoin Morgan – Of course as captain, Morgan’s place was already secure. He does attract a lot of criticism though, so his performance today will have quieted his naysayers (at least temporarily). He got a dominating score of 107 with the bat, and rotated the bowling well which seemed to create wickets from what was a very flat pitch.

Moeen Ali – As Sean B wrote before the game, Moeen’s ODI credentials are not as strong as England’s other all-rounders. His career averages are 27.75 with the bat and 47.54 with the ball, so he arguably wouldn’t get in the team either as a batsman or bowler alone. The two things he has going for him are that his bowling is typically economical, and he has the potential to bat like he has in this game. Moeen’s 117 run partnership with Morgan shaped the whole game, taking England’s score high enough to put pressure on South Africa’s batting lineup. He also bowled well, taking 2 wickets for only the second time in his previous 21 ODIs including the crucial dismissal of de Villiers.

Chris Woakes – Arguably England’s best ODI all-rounder, Woakes had a great game with the ball taking 4 wickets for only 38 runs. Crucially he quickly finished off the tail, which can sometimes be a problem for England’s bowlers.

Alex Hales – Although he’ll be disappointed with the way he lost his wicket to a very loose shot, Hales’ 61 set a strong platform for England to build on. After confirming his status as England’s best ODI opener in this game, it would be incredibly surprising if he didn’t play every game of the Champions Trophy.

No Change

Joe Root – Not a great innings by Root, but not terrible either. Since the 2015 World Cup, Root has averaged 63.00 in ODIs, so his position was never under threat. However he will be under even more scrutiny in the coming weeks, as people try to work out if the added pressure and attention from the Test captaincy will affect his batting.

Adil Rashid – Rashid is what he is; An expensive bowler who takes wickets. That’s what he did in this game, and England’s management clearly believe that it’s a tradeoff worth making.

Liam Plunkett – An economical but non-threatening performance on a very flat pitch in this game by Plunkett. I honestly had forgotten he was playing in this game when I was writing this report.

Weakened Their Position

Jos Buttler – With two more wicketkeepers in the squad, Buttler’s position is arguably the one under most threat from this starting XI. Whilst he was solid behind the stumps taking 4 catches, scoring only 7 runs won’t have done him any favours with the selectors. The manner of dismissal might be worrying too, as the South Africans appeared to have a specific plan to get him out and it worked.

Jason Roy – Only scoring 1 from 6 balls is always going to be a poor day’s work for an opening batsman. With the continued good performances from Hales, Root and Morgan, Roy might be the weakest specialist batsman in the team, if England’s management wanted to get Bairstow or Billings in the side without sacrificing Buttler.

Mark Wood – England’s least economical bowler in this game, both Amla and de Villiers took a liking to his bowling. They are world-class batsmen though, and he did get his revenge on Amla with a great LBW dismissal.

Ben Stokes – A disappointing game for the two million dollar man, but most worrying for everyone will be a knee injury which meant he only bowled two overs in the game. Captain Morgan said after the game that Ben was available to bowl if needed, which hopefully means it’s a very minor niggle.

On To Southampton

The next game in the series is on Saturday at the Ageas Bowl, starting at 11am. Changes are certain to be made, as it would be very surprising if Stokes played with even a minor injury on the eve of a tournament. Willey is the closest like-for-like replacement in the squad, and so would be the favourite to play in Stokes’ place. Ball, Bairstow and Billings will all be eager to press their case to play in the Champions Trophy, if given the opportunity.

As ever, thoughts and comments on the game below:

All Stars Cricket: Why Is It Failing?

If the ECB wanted to attract new people to the sport with the All Stars Cricket programme, perhaps it shouldn’t be more expensive than existing juniors cricket coaching or almost literally every other single thing a kid could be doing instead?

For those who might not be aware, the ECB recently launched a new initiative which aims to reverse the decline in youth participation in cricket. Named ‘All Stars Cricket’, the scheme is designed to get 5-8 year old boys and girls to “fun” coaching sessions at their local cricket clubs. The parents pay £40 to the ECB a few weeks before the sessions start, and in return they receive eight hour-long training sessions and a backpack containing a personalised cricket top, a water bottle, a hat, a cricket bat and a ball. The coaching is carefully designed by experts to be help children in their fitness and hand-eye coordination, as well as being entertaining.  In addition, there are videos online featuring current men’s and women’s England players, and suggestions for cricket-based games the parents can play with their children in their back garden.

At the launch a mere 7 weeks ago, the ECB were suggesting that they were targeting approximately 50,000 boys and girls to take part. They had announced a collaboration with MumsNet, an influential parenting website, and promised a marketing campaign to extend All Stars Cricket’s appeal beyond the children of existing cricket fans. 10,000 children who sign up before May 10th will also be randomly selected to meet and play with current England players at various events around the country.

Matt Dwyer, the Director of Participation & Growth at the ECB who is responsible for All Stars Cricket, was on Test Match Special on Sunday talking about it. The thing which immediately jumped out at me during the interview is that he said it’s on course to have around 20,000 children participating this year. This is 40% of the ECB’s own target, which begs the question: Why has it all gone wrong?

Continue reading “All Stars Cricket: Why Is It Failing?”