View from the Lumley End: Can anyone give England a game?
Emergence of Finn and solidity of opening batting pair are bedrocks of new England consistency in one-day games
England’s ninth one-day win in a row represents a remarkable run since losing 5-0 to India last October.
England continue to crush the opposition. At the end of their one-sided Test matches against the West Indies, the ODIs against the same opposition held out hopes of more competitive cricket. But England dominated Gayle, Bravo, Pollard et al who slunk back home without a win.
After the West Indies' limp displays, the prospect of a meaningless series of five ODIs against Australia suddenly appeared a more attractive proposition. Surely Australia - the world's number one ODI side - would provide some competition.
But they have performed little better than the West Indies. The latest walkover in Durham - where England won by eight wickets with time to spare - was yet more of the same ruthless domination from England. The world's number one side is being made to look second-rate.
Admittedly, at the Riverside, Australia had the worst of the conditions. Gloomy light encouraged swing and the ball zig-zagged off the damp pitch. But the gulf in class was so enormous that Australia cannot blame bad luck for their crushing defeat.
Steven Finn’s world-class fast bowling, in particular, showed the depth of England’s resources. He bowled at extreme pace without ever striving hard for it.
A couple of years ago, Stuart Broad tried to bowl at 90 mph, but he was never suited to the role and his accuracy deserted him. But extreme pace comes naturally to Finn, a result of his flowing run up and rhythmical action.
Australia's attack at Chester-le-Street had no one with such potency. Their ageing speedster, Brett Lee, struggled to reach the mid-eighties on the speed gun, before limping off with an injury. Earlier, Shane Watson had also succumbed to injury and the sorry spectacle of limping Australian bowlers summed up the whole team's plight.
A second major reason for England’s improvement is the emergence of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell at the top of the order. Long considered Test match specialists, they are now the best opening partnership in one-dayers.
At the Riverside, Ian Bell (69) dismantled the bowling with the artistry of a Sachin Tendulkar rather than the brute strength of a Shane Watson. On the one occasion Bell tried to muscle the ball – tempted into a heave off a free hit – he mistimed a delivery that he could have cut in textbook fashion.
Bell and Cook look set to open for a long time. Back in October, during the 5-0 pasting against India, England were still in 'experimental opener' mode.
Kieswetter opened in that series and was told to give it a belt. But such a role can be played successfully by very few players and he largely failed.
The experience of Matt Prior was similar. He was given the same instructions as Kieswetter but he never achieved any consistency either. His failures led to his premature axing from the team.
In the meantime, Jonathan Trott at number three gets better and better. Even in the 5-0 defeat to India, he averaged 50 and scored his runs at a stike rate of 80. Alone of England's top-order players he played the Indian spinners with confidence.
At the Riverside, Trott's unbeaten fifty took his ODI average back above 50 with a strike rate is in the high seventies, better than many people think. It was a typical Trott innings, pragmatic, tidy and risk-free.
So who will give this crack outfit a game? Looking forward to the arrival of the South Africans, finally we will get the competitive cricket which will stretch England to the limits. Man for man there is nothing to choose between the teams. There will be no England walkover.