Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, England insist they know what they are trying to do to create an accomplished one-day team. Nothing that they have managed so far in the series against India – and almost nothing in the nine months before – suggests that they are much closer to actually doing it.
If their concept is right, although some observers disagree on that, the execution is faulty. Two heavy defeats in the past week, by 133 runs and six wickets, have merely embellished an extremely moderate sequence of results since the Champions Trophy in this country last summer.
“We’re trying to find a balance for our team,” said Peter Moores, the England coach, on Monday. “To do that we’ve had quite a lot of change and we’ve got to be able to identify the right people in the right slots to play a brand of cricket that players feel they can deliver and be successful against the best teams.”
With the fourth one-day international against India at Edgbaston today and the World Cup starting in February, Moores is running out of time. The batting has failed badly in this series and, in the whole season of eight completed ODIs so far, the only hundred has been scored by Jos Buttler, batting at No 7, with a mere five fifties besides. The main problem has been in the middle: the middle order in the middle overs.
It is clear that the new opening partnership of Alastair Cook, the captain, and Alex Hales has been earmarked for the World Cup. England have to decide what happens afterwards in a batting order at present comprising Ian Bell, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan.
At some point – probably but not necessarily today, when England may feel they are playing an away match, such will be the level of Indian support – either or both of Gary Ballance or Moeen Ali must be given an outing. Neither may prove a panacea, though Ballance in particular has adapted wonderfully to the demands of the international game.
Moeen’s off-spin bowling, allied to his attractive batting, has some allure but India will regard him altogether differently than they did in the Test series, when he took 19 wickets with barely a whimper from the tourists.
Bell, the most experienced player in the team with 148 appearances, may oddly be the most vulnerable despite also being the most adroit at playing spin. There will be no inclination to drop Root or Morgan, who can both move swiftly through the gears in different fashions.
Leaving out Ben Stokes would be a backward step, given his rich gifts, and would not necessarily have the desired effect. Perhaps England might opt for putting Buttler in his most successful position of No 7 again. The suspicion remains that the fewer overs left when Buttler comes in, the more effective he will be.
“There’s still time for people to force their way in, of course there is,” Moores said. “We need to get enough experience in there but also there’s a chance to try some different things, evaluate a side hopefully to go forward and play in that World Cup and win.” Which seems a pipe dream at present.
Probable Edgbaston teams:
England A N Cook (capt), A D Hales, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, J E Root, M M Ali, J C Buttler (wkt), C R Woakes, J C Tredwell, S T Finn, J M Anderson
India A M Rahane, S Dhawan, V Kohli, A T Rayudu, S K Raina, R Jadeja, M S Dhoni (capt; wkt), Ashwin, B Kumar, M Shami, M M Sharma.
Umpires P Reiffel (Aus) and T Robinson
Pitch report There have been high first innings scores in the three 50-over matches this season, 273, 298 and 218 in 33 overs with the side batting first winning on each occasion. Could be more of the same.
TV Sky Sports 2, 10am-7pm
Weather Cloudy with sunny intervals. Max temp: 18C