England report card: Finn and Bopara excel
What part will England's two outstanding players of this ODI series play in the Tests against South Africa?
England completed a four-nil series victory over Australia in the rain-affected game at Old Trafford. They have been utterly dominant throughout, the visitors coming close only in the first ODI at Lord’s.
All the batsmen have made runs. The qualities of Cook, Bell and Trott have been confirmed, yet again, with Bell’s position as opening partner to the captain surely established for the foreseeable future. If we take these three for granted, the successes of Bopara and Morgan have been the welcome feature of this series. Morgan is back to his brilliant, improvisational best. He has been a match-winner in the past, and has become one again.
Bopara has been a revelation. In partnership at Old Trafford with his Essex teammate Cook, he helped steer England to victory with an innings of such maturity and assurance that he has surely earned the right to a Test place in the forthcoming series against South Africa. He has scored 182 runs in the series, only seven fewer than leading run-scorer Bell.
England’s bowling has been predictably good. Finn, despite uncharacteristically ordinary figures at Old Trafford, where his six overs went for 35 runs, has confirmed the excellent impression he gave in the winter’s ODIs against Pakistan. He is now ranked third in the world, the highest England placing since Alan Mullally more than 10 years ago. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan, despite performing well, have been out-bowled by the fast young man from Middlesex.
Swann, in his two games, was at his best, conceding runs at slightly more than four an over. If there were reservations about his 50-over deputy, James Tredwell, they must be at least held in abeyance after his seven superb overs in the final game. Two for 23 was a deserved return for a confident display in which he showed the self-belief to give the ball air and keep it up to the bat. He gained enough turn to force the batsmen to remain wary, and his dismissal of Wade, deceived in the flight and beaten by the turn, to be stumped by Kieswetter, was a classical piece of spin bowling.
And what of Bopara? The sixth bowler, one who will do to fill an over or two, has actually sent down 19 and taken four wickets at an economy rate of just 3.0. If two for 8 from four overs rather flattered him at Old Trafford – both wickets came from loose shots – his performance at Chester-le-Street befitted a full-time medium-pacer. The delivery which did for Bailey on that occasion, pitching on middle and taking the top of off, would have befitted a better bowler and beaten a better batsman.
The ground fielding has been good, with a number of well-taken run outs, none more dextrous than the dismissal of Forrest at Old Trafford, where Patel’s sharp return from mid-off was cleverly taken one-handed by Tredwell before he broke the stumps.
However, England’s catching has been well below their usual standard. Five have been taken, excluding those behind the stumps, but more have been missed. When Anderson fails to hold on to chances, it is tempting to wonder if something in the team’s preparation is at fault. This is unquestionably not the case; perhaps after a couple of drops a collective nervousness infects the players, and the aberrations of this series will soon be forgotten.
Kieswetter’s wicketkeeping must be exempted from this criticism. As well as being generally tidy, he has taken some excellent catches and seems finally to be establishing himself as a member of the ODI team. His job is to also score runs; it is England’s strength that he has been given little opportunity at the crease.
So, once again this summer England completes a series victory without a serious challenge having been offered. Surely they will be tested by South Africa, so that, by the end of the summer, we will know whether the side are as good as we think they are. And what part in the forthcoming Tests might be played by Bopara and Finn, the most impressive players of these ODI matches?