View from the Northern End: England's five-bowler policy
Playing five front-line bowlers gives England a cutting edge they have rarely had in one-day matches
England have found a new formula for success in one-day cricket, which is predicated on their greatest strength – the depth of their fast bowling resources.
In the 1st ODI at the Rose Bowl, in Southampton, their five specialist bowlers secured a 114-run victory by bowling out the West Indies for 172. All five - Finn, Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Swann – contributed wickets.
Traditionally, most one-day teams have preferred to pack the side with batting and use part-time bowlers to fill in a few overs. This was pretty much the policy of West Indies in this game and their lack of penetration may persuade them to consider playing an extra fast bowler at The Oval.
But the use of "bits-and-pieces" cricketers has rarely been successful for England. The careers of Luke Wright and Dimi Mascarenhas provide eloquent proof of the dangers of promoting players who are a shade short of international quality.
Wright had a reasonable average with the bat of 22 in 35 innings, but his bowling was not up to the mark. He took 15 wickets in 46 ODIs at an average of 57 runs each.
The career of Mascarenhas was remarkably similar. Another big-hitting allrounder, he averaged 22 at a strike rate of 95. But, like Wright, his bowling lacked penetration. In 20 matches, he took 13 wickets at nearly 49 runs each.
These figures are worth repeating because had Wright and Mascarenhas been bowling in the middle overs, West Indies could have come a lot closer to winning this game. At one point, the visitors were 95-1, with the explosive Dwayne Smith going strong.
But instead of Luke Wright, Bresnan was bowling in the middle overs. Not only did he pick up the danger man, Dwayne Smith, but he followed up with three more wickets to finish with figures of 4-34 in 7.4 overs.
In doing so, Bresnan demonstrated all the tricks which make this unassuming performer such a pivotal figure. Ramdin was trapped lbw by a ball which seamed back in to him, Russell could not cope with his deceptively dangerous bumper, and Narine nicked a full ball angled at the stumps.
With bowlers of this quality, England are always likely to take wickets. West Indies built a platform and were well ahead of the required run rate, but they could not coast through the middle overs because there was no respite.
It is interesting that England are willing to play a five-man bowling attack in one-day matches, but insist on playing the extra batsman in Test matches. This is the opposite of traditional theory.
But England can afford to play five bowlers in ODIs (and some would argue also Test matches) because of the advent of Bresnan, who is such a reliable performer with the bat.
Again, in this game, he chipped in with 21 runs at a run a ball. The versatile talents of Broad and Swann, both capable of quick runs, are almost as valuable.
But the England policy of playing five bowlers does carry one obvious drawback. Being a batsman light requires one of the top six to make a hundred. This is something which – thanks to Bell’s wonderful innings – has now been achieved in their last five ODIS, all won by England.
There will be times when the policy of playing five bowlers will not work. But it is England’s best policy because it plays to their strength. No other team has so many international quality bowlers. There is always the threat of wickets falling in clusters and spreading panic in the opposition ranks.