Jofra Archer's England stock rises despite not playing at Ageas Bowl
England lack x-factor without Archer before Willey shows nous at the death to press World Cup claims
Last Updated: 14/05/19 1:53pm
"You don't only become a better player when you're in the team," mused Michael Atherton between commentary stints on a sunny afternoon in Southampton on Saturday.
Jos Buttler reaffirmed how important he is to this England white-ball side - as if we needed reminding - with a blistering 50-ball ton to propel his team to a formidable-looking 373-3 against Pakistan.
But it was not so formidable without the man Atherton was referring to, Jofra Archer, who had been rotated out of the side at The Ageas Bowl as England chose to shuffle their seamers.
In Archer's absence, Pakistan, inspired by Fakhar Zaman's century, got to within 13 runs of victory and it was only towards the death when his rivals for a World Cup place made their mark.
The deck was not as friendly as Wednesday's rain-impacted surface at The Oval, one on which Archer bowled briskly and returned figures of 1-6 from four highly-impressive overs, nicking off Fakhar with a pacey delivery.
But that was precisely why Archer would have been useful - on a haven for batsmen, his extra zip could have ruffled Pakistan in a way David Willey, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett, in the main, did not.
Perhaps buoyed by Buttler's earlier pyrotechnics and the fact he did not have to deal with Archer charging in, Fakhar was exceptional, pummelling full deliveries down the ground and pulling shorter ones to and over the fence en route to a fourth one-day international ton.
The lack of an x-factor bowler to torpedo in yorkers or bang in bumpers at great pace was stark as Pakistan progressed to 227-1 in the 33rd over and 323-4 in the 46th to leave England in danger of defeat.
Eoin Morgan, though, did praise his seamers' efforts after their narrow win.
"I thought all the bowlers who were put under the pump, when we couldn't take wickets throughout that whole 30-over period, reacted really well," he said.
The belief is that Plunkett - England's go-to man in the middle overs over the last four years, taking 45 wickets between overs 11-40, a tally matched among seamers only by Pakistan's Hasan Ali - and Willey - the bowler Morgan looks to if there is any early swing on offer - are in most jeopardy of dropping out to accommodate Archer.
Tom Curran, a fine death bowler, and Mark Wood, someone we are yet to see this summer with England managing his workload and Durham's recent games being affected by weather, may also be at risk of missing out on a home World Cup.
I think they are all pushing each other. For the last four years Willey and Plunkett, in particular, have reacted really well when being put under pressure. You ask them to do more and they respond really well. It's going to be a tough decision regardless of how they have performed.
Eoin Morgan on England's seamers
Woakes appeared the only seamer nailed-on and he still might be, but he has been carrying a knee niggle for a while and his recent ODI outings have not been eye-catching in a good way.
Returns of 0-91 from 10 overs in Grenada and 1-56 from six overs in St Lucia against West Indies earlier this year, Chris Gayle carting him around on both occasions.
The Warwickshire man did remove Fakhar at The Ageas Bowl but not with a great delivery, the opener falling to an under-edge on review after chasing a wide ball. Woakes' form and fitness must be a concern for England.
Woakes did keep his cool with Pakistan requiring 19 from the final over, shipping just six runs as he bowled full to fine effect, but it was Willey who really ended the Pakistan charge.
The left-armer conceded just 17 runs from his final three overs after returning to the attack when Pakistan were well in contention at 305-4 with seven overs remaining.
He missed his mark second ball, with Asif Ali depositing a pitched-up delivery over long-off for six, but quickly redeemed himself with the ploy of bowling full and wide to the right-handers and short to the left-handers, a method that brought him two key wickets.
Ali skewed to Ben Stokes on the long-off fence looking to replicate his earlier six, while Imad Wasim, cramped for room by a bouncer, could only balloon towards fine leg where Buttler took the catch having sprinted there from behind the stumps.
With Willey showing he could be England's death star as well as the man to get it shaping early on, his World Cup prospects look brighter.
If he does make it, he will surely have Archer for company.
Will Archer return for the third ODI against Pakistan at Bristol on Tuesday? Find out live from 12.30pm on Sky Sports Cricket.