Fearless England ready to get pulse racing once again

Free-flowing approach is paying dividends against Kiwis

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The Independent Online

Love, as most of us have cause to rue, is an exciting but fickle business. In a trice, it seems, the public are head over heels again with the England cricket team.

Barely a month ago, after that small matter of the implosion in the Caribbean, which was followed by some messy administrative malarkey back at home, they were virtual outcasts in their own land. But suddenly they are sweethearts to make the heart race on sight, people who in the eyes of the smitten can do no wrong.

It was Alex Hales, the crunching opening batsman who is being given an opportunity, long overdue, to stake his claim as an international player, who pointed this out yesterday. “It looks like we’ve won our fan base back in one-day cricket,” he said, which was code for the obvious existence of a passionate affair.

The delightful ground at Trent Bridge, most alluring of England’s provincial cricket centres, will be packed today for the fourth one-day international against New Zealand (as it will be for the fourth Test of the Ashes in August).

This seemingly inconsequential one-day series has not only captured the attention, throwing up two memorable matches and another that will not necessarily be forgotten by the middle of next week, but may also mark a permanent change in the way England approach their cricket.

By choosing a profusion of untried players – in other words, by doing their job – the selectors have made a declaration of intent. It is that word, intent, which has in itself become a mission statement.

What it means in practice is that players are being encouraged, nay commanded, to play the sort of cricket that they themselves would like to watch. It has been unfettered and joyful, as if they want to be there out in the middle rather than any other place in the world, which is not something that England teams of the past two years have always conveyed.

This promises to extend well beyond the limited-overs version of the game, which is as it should be. No one should either expect or wish the Ashes series, which will soon be upon us, to be a glorious runfest in which both sides risk losing in order to try to win (really, this is the Ashes) but a bit of spirited free thinking from the home side would be extremely welcome.

Lest it be forgotten, England are 2-1 down to New Zealand at present, having lost two successive matches after their unprecedented victory in the opener. They have found to be true what they feared to be true: it is the first time that England have scored above 300 in three consecutive matches but in two of them their total has been insufficient.

Romances are not built to last on such setbacks. It would be fitting if England could find a way of coming back to 2-2 today, setting up a rousing finale in Durham on Saturday, and reflecting the state of two closely matched sides who have come to respect, even like, each other in the last few weeks.

Despite the much heralded presence of the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie, England are likely to stick with the side which lost at The Oval on Sunday. They will surely be keen to persevere with the left-arm swing bowling of David Willey.

They have been in a perpetual search for such a practitioner, in truth for most of the past century.

New Zealand have a high-class exponent in Trent Boult, now sadly lost to this series because of injury, though they also have Mitchell McLenaghan. Australia have two who put the frighteners on, in the two other Mitchells, Johnson and Starc.

England spent last year hoping forlornly that Harry Gurney of Nottinghamshire might be the answer. But Gurney is a solid county professional, no more in cricketing terms (and nothing wrong with that).

Willey is 25, the son of Peter, the former England batsman and international umpire. He is a modern kind of player, likes to cut a dash. His bowling has a natural inswing but it is propelled in the low to mid-eighties, which is not best practice at the rarefied top level.

“Ever since I was a young boy my father has told me how valuable left-armers are,” Willey said. “He has always encouraged me to keep swinging the ball, even if I am not expressing pace. Personally, being a left-armer that swings it back into the right-hander is my main asset and that is why I have been picked.”

Hales is the hometown boy who could ensure the passion endures. Were he to score a hundred today – he made 99 in a Twenty20 international at Trent Bridge three years ago – it would bring the roof off. “It would be a dream come true,” he said. It would undoubtedly delay the end of the affair.


Probable teams:

England E J G Morgan (capt), A D Hales, J J Roy, J E Root, B A Stokes, J C Buttler (wkt), S W Billings, A U Rashid, D J Willey, M A Wood, S T Finn

New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), M J Guptill, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor,  M Santner, G D Elliott,  L Ronchi (wkt), B M Wheeler, T G Southee, M J Henry,  M J McClenaghan

Umpires S J Davis (Aus) &  R J Bailey (Eng)

Weather Mixture of sunshine and cloud, with rain arriving  in the late afternoon. Maximum temperature: 21C

Television Sky Sports 2,  1.30-10.30pm

Series so far:

1st ODI Eng won by 210 runs

2nd NZ won by 13 runs (D/L)

3rd NZ won by three wkts

5th Saturday (Durham)