England ended a run of five straight losses in one-day internationals with a 59-run win over South Africa in the third and final match of the series on Wednesday; Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton assessed how England are shaping up ahead of their World Cup defence
Friday 3 February 2023 07:52, UK
If there were concerns over England's one-day international form nine months out from them beginning their defence of the Cricket World Cup, Wednesday's win in the final ODI of their three-match series against South Africa went some way towards easing those.
After beginning the new era with Matthew Mott as head coach and Jos Buttler as captain with an expectedly commanding 3-0 sweep of the Netherlands last June, the world champions were beaten 2-1 at home by India and drew 1-1 in a rain-affected series at home to South Africa.
A 3-0 series defeat away to old rivals Australia in the wake of last November's T20 World Cup triumph was almost brushed off given some of the absentees and the fact it came so soon after that triumph, but then going down to defeats in the first two matches of this just-concluded series against South Africa set a few alarm bells ringing.
Even the 59-run win in Kimberley to ensure they were not swept by the Proteas contained some nervy moments as the tourists were reduced to 14-3 at one point and then found themselves under pressure as South Africa chased 347 before Heinrich Klaasen fell for 80.
Buttler and Mott now have just 10 ODIs to prepare the side for the World Cup in India, which gets under way in October. However, Nasser Hussain is impressed with the skipper's focus on being ready for that tournament rather than worrying too much about individual results, particularly with several key players still to return or only just back in the team.
"That's why Jos is so much about building towards that World Cup," Hussain told Sky Sports. "Usually when you've lost five in a row, you're like 'we've got to be better than this', but Jos is a very cool, calm captain that's just saying 'when we've got the gang back together we'll be okay'."
One notable absentee at the top of the batting order remains Jonny Bairstow after suffering a broken leg on a golf course last year, while a knee injury sustained in the Test series win over Pakistan has sidelined big-hitting middle-order batter Liam Livingstone for now as well.
Joe Root was not involved in South Africa after heading to Dubai to play in the International League T20 to get more exposure to white-ball cricket ahead of the World Cup. Meanwhile, the likes of Alex Hales, James Vince and Phil Salt will aim to press for inclusion this summer.
Bowling-wise, Jofra Archer's return - after being out of international action since March 2021 due to injury - and career-best ODI bowling figures of 6-40 in Wednesday's match provided a huge boost to England's pace options.
Reece Topley was easing himself back into international action against South Africa too after an injury suffered ahead of the T20 World Cup, having come to the fore with 13 wickets in seven ODIs for England last summer, and there remains the question as to whether Test captain and all-round star Ben Stokes will make himself available for the World Cup as well.
"There is so much depth with the batting and players who could come in who are already superstar players like Joe Root," Hussain said.
"There's not as much depth to the bowling, but they have had the worst of the conditions [in South Africa]...and a lot of their bowlers are coming back from injury.
"It's keeping them playing - I think we take that for granted a little bit that bowlers are machines and when they come back they'll be perfect, but they need to get some overs into their legs."
England's white-ball team now prepare to head to Bangladesh for a three-match ODI series at the start of March, with 2019 World Cup runners-up New Zealand and Ireland providing the home opposition in ODIs this summer.
Those matches will offer plenty of opportunities for Mott and Buttler to fine-tune England's best line-up, and even if every result does not go their way then they will undoubtedly take solace from the build-up to the T20 World Cup which saw them edge a seven-match series in the shortest format in Pakistan 4-3 before going on to claim glory at the global gathering.
Nevertheless, former England captain Michael Atherton knows as well as anyone that winning is the best way to build confidence as the focus shifts back to 50-over cricket in 2023.
"I do think between now and then they want to get back to the winning habit," Atherton said. "Confidence is hard-gained and easily lost, and England have had a year where they've not really been focusing on 50-over cricket.
"I think the next 10 games, try to get the strongest side out for the 50-over game if you can and get to India with a run of wins under your belt."
The Warwickshire seamer has endured a difficult time with injuries in recent years but showed some encouraging signs when he played in the first two matches of the series against South Africa in Bloemfontein.
Notably, he bowled economically in both matches, particularly in the second where he was the only one of England's bowlers to go for fewer than six runs an over as the hosts chased down 343, taking 2-48 from his 10 overs.
A 59 in the opening match of this series was followed by just 12 in the second, but the big-hitting left-hander solidified why he should be in consideration for one of the opening spots on Wednesday in Kimberley with 118 from 114 balls in a record fourth-wicket stand against South Africa of 232 with Buttler.
Given Bairstow is likely to resume his spot at the top of the order when he returns from injury, it is now seemingly between Malan and Jason Roy as to who will partner him. However, the latter's 113 in Bloemfontein showed he is not to be discounted just yet either.
The 23-year-old has already showed his ability to seamlessly transition between white and red-ball cricket with his impressive displays for England's T20 side and during the Test series win over Pakistan late last year, and he completed the set of caps by earning his ODI bow against South Africa.
Blasting 80 from 75 balls in the second match of the series with seven fours and four sixes after a duck on his debut showed just how destructive Brook can be, and that little seems to faze the Yorkshireman even after not making the bow he would have wanted.
Not the best series for him in terms of his bowling after taking just one wicket across the three games, but the 35-year-old left-hander showed just how much of a threat he remains in England's middle order.
Moeen smashed 51 off 45 balls in the second match of the series for his sixth ODI half-century and then clubbed 41 from just 23 balls in the third to help England set a target of 347, finishing the series with a strike rate of 121.17 too.
Wednesday March 1 - Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, Mirpur (6am)
Friday March 3 - Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, Mirpur (6am)
Monday March 6 - Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Chittagong (6am)
Friday September 8 - Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (12.30pm)
Sunday September 10 - The Ageas Bowl, Southampton (11am)
Wednesday September 13 - The Kia Oval, London (12.30pm)
Friday September 15 - Lord's, London (12.30pm)
Wednesday September 20 - Headingley, Leeds (12:30pm)
Saturday September 23 - Trent Bridge, Nottingham (11am)
Tuesday September 26 - Seat Unique Stadium, Bristol (12.30pm)