England finally experiment ahead of the World Cup, but get it wrong
The barbs of criticism levelled at the English ODI team have been stinging the skin of those involved for months, years even.
Use a big-hitter at the top of the batting order, some cried. Change the captain, others scowled. Do anything, literally anything, differently from the past 10 years, the cynics deadpanned.
So, when news broke of a change in the order for the side’s first warm-up match of their pre-World Cup tour of Sri Lanka, the naysayers and critics perhaps sensed a victory in the air.
Imagine their disconsolation when they found out that Alex Hales, the rangy opening batsman that so many popped blood vessels calling for, had been dropped from the top of the order in favour of Moeen Ali when the side face Sri Lanka A.
Then consider that Alastair Cook, the very run-accumulating, dullard captain whose tenure the pitchfork-clutching mob were baying for, had retained his place and picture the plumes of steam shooting from their eardrums.
Of course, this is just a warm-up game and there is nothing to suggest that Hales has been jettisoned from the World Cup plans completely.
But with this the first of many games in which Cook, along with Peter Moores, can start to plan an attacking strategy for the tournament, it’s doesn’t bode well.
Hales, a hitherto T20 specialist, was given his 50-over bow in the ODI series with India this past summer.
Despite only managing 92 runs in those four games, the man with England’s only T20 century to date was still seen as a potential match-winner for the February tournament, where England are 10/1 to win.
There is also nothing wrong with using Ali as an opener; it’s a role Worcestershire use him in with some success considering his last four scores for them are 51, 114, 28 and 20, all at a strike rate of 93.33 or better.
England have experimented with the off-spinning stroke-maker at the top of the order in coloured kit before too, where Ali scored 109 runs in three innings against the West Indies at a strike rate of 81.34.
The problem here is Cook, who tends to stymie the flow of runs at the top of the order and blocks the more idealistic ODI partnership of Ali and Hales in his position as captain and opening bat.
With the chance to truly redefine their image ahead of a tournament where barely anyone bar the players holds much expectation, this is a worrying and stagnant start.
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