The Cricketer
Owen Riley Owen Riley

ENGLAND V SOUTH AFRICA: HOSTS WILL LEARN FROM LORD'S COLLAPSE

Eoin Morgan's men tournament favourites with good reason

Being told England are tournament favourites is about as reassuring as Baldrick announcing he has a cunning plan. But this time, just maybe, it is with good reason.

A rubber, dead or no, that Lord’s performance was something of an omnishambles for England. 20 for 6 – the fastest a team has lost their first six wickets in ODI history does not look great.

Yes, the series was won, and changes were made – with Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood all making way. Nevertheless the six batsmen to fall inside the first five overs at Lord’s, will – barring a last-minute change of tack from England - be lining up to face Bangladesh at The Oval. Hardly the last-minute confidence booster the hosts would have been searching for. Of course, take nothing from South Africa, Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell were excellent with the ball, and the Proteas top order knocked of the total with little fuss.

But, alas, we cannot be treated to the firebrand cricket England have produced over the last two years without the odd disaster. Would anyone have traded Jos Buttler for Alastair Cook to come and dig in at the home of cricket?

England will hope the Lord’s debacle acts as a gentle wake-up call ahead of the tournament to the fact that they are not invincible, rather than represent a belief-destroying performance. I’d wager England will gain more from this series than they have lost.

England may have stumbled at Lord’s but they are understandably Champions Trophy favourites on home soil. Eoin Morgan’s team had won their eight previous ODIs, and their trajectory since the 2015 World Cup has been well documented. England have registered totals in excess of 300 on 21 occasions since the tournament in Australia and New Zealand and have scored 350 or more on eight occasions, including the record-breaking 444 against Pakistan. In Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jason Roy, England have four of the top ten batsman by highest strike rate since the World Cup.

For England it has come full circle from that ignominious departure where they were dumped out by Bangladesh, the very team that they will line up against on Thursday at The Oval. Ever since that failure has been the muddied yardstick by which to measure England’s white-ball credentials. Two years on and they looking to be hitting the heights. What will the papers say come June 19?

World’s best 12th man

It has been the only real point of contention in England’s one-day set-up, one that has grumbled along and recently started to become something closer to a roar.

Jason Roy has gone six innings without a half-century. By contrast Jonny Bairstow has averaged 59.75, in his last six knocks with three half-centuries to his name.

Roy is out of nick, no question, and Bairstow is in decent form. At Lord’s textbook cover drives, late cuts, pulls and a less orthodox uppercut were all shots indicative of a man in fine touch. But England are very unlikely to make a change on the eve of the tournament, and Roy shouldn’t be judged on a lean run that only stretches back a couple of months.

Eoin Morgan is backing Jason Roy to bounce back

In January Roy scored 220 runs at 77.33 in India, with knocks of 73, 82 and 65. Since Sri Lanka toured last summer, Roy has scored 886 runs at 42.19, scoring two hundreds and six half-centuries. In the same period, Bairstow has averaged slightly higher at 43, reaching fifty on four occasions.

Bairstow’s highest score in that time is his unbeaten 73 against Ireland. Roy’s is 162 v Sri Lanka at The Oval in 2016.

Strike rate is another indicator of Roy’s role. The opener's career strike rate is 102.19 compared to Bairstow’s 89.98. Roy is there to ignite an innings. Think back to the World Twenty20; 43 from 21 against South Africa at Mumbai, 78 from 50 against New Zealand in the semi-final. Launching an all-out assault from delivery one will inevitably come with its casualties, but when Roy gets it right, he goes big. His captain backed him in the wake of another failure at Lord’s saying: Jason has scored a huge amount of runs for us, the way in which he plays is very important and it will continue to be like that. A big score is around the corner.”

Bairstow is likely a victim of England’s admirable policy of picking a team and sticking with it. The lead-up to this tournament has been a carefully crafted white-ball revolution, one in which Jason Roy has been a firm fixture. For now, it seems, Jonny will have to settle for being the world’s greatest 12th man.

Jonny Bairstow can count himself incredibly unlucky not to be in the starting XI but underlines England's strength in depth

Using the gears

It has been a hallmark of England’s one-day transformation, and surely they won’t let those Bank Holiday blues change their belligerent approach to batting. But even Eoin Morgan, who leads from the front in his approach accepted that “sometimes you have to sit in. It was a nice reminder.”

Speaking about England’s squad, Virat Kohli was in prophetic form at last week’s pre-tournament presser stating that “when a side plays in that manner for so long, when it doesn’t click it can go against you pretty quickly”.

Never dull though, is it?

Treatment table

At the moment it seems that only England themselves can prevent the trophy being lifted by the hosts on June 18. If they throw bats at good balls as several did at Lord’s, they will make it difficult for themselves. But if they can keep cool heads, and if - and this one is a portly if – they can keep everybody fit, they’ve got a monumental chance of winning this thing. Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood (all rested on Monday) are injury concerns. England have able-bodied replacements in the aforementioned Bairstow, while Jake Ball is first-choice back-up in the bowling ranks, but England will quietly hope they’re not required.

Mark Wood's ankle is key to England's hopes