As England’s batsmen broke record after record in their obliteration of Pakistan at Trent Bridge on Tuesday, it was hard to imagine the country’s one-day team had hit its lowest-ever ebb just 18 months ago.
Back then, England exited the 2015 Cricket World Cup at the pool stage following a loss to Bangladesh, the most embarrassing of a sorry run of failures on the sport’s biggest ODI stage.
The team was accused of failing to move with the times in one-day cricket, of focusing too much on Test matches to the detriment of the shorter format, and of a short-sighted, conservative selection policy.
Fast-forward to Wednesday.
A side brimming with power and self-belief plundered a world-record total of 444-3 on the way to a series-clinching victory over Pakistan in Nottingham. The five-match series continues on Thursday in Leeds.
Other records broken included: Most boundaries hit in an ODI innings (59), most sixes in an ODI innings by England (16), the highest individual ODI score by an Englishman (a superb 171 by opening batsman Alex Hales) and the fastest ODI 50 by England (Jos Buttler in 22 balls). Pakistan paceman Wahab Riaz conceded 110 runs in his 10 overs, the second most by a bowler in ODIs.
“We haven’t reached our peak yet,” Hales said in a warning to England’s rivals. “That’s the most exciting thing for us.”
The transformation can be explained by a number of factors, notably a new coach, a more positive mentality and clearer strategic thinking by England’s cricket chiefs.
Having a talented generation of players helps, too — even though they were there all along.
Hales, for example, either wasn’t selected or played at No. 3 at the 2015 World Cup, despite being one of the most destructive openers in England in the shorter format. Jason Roy, the opening partner for Hales, was already a consistent match winner for Surrey by 2015 but wasn’t picked for the World Cup. Gary Ballance was in the squad, even though he was a Test specialist batsman and wasn’t suited to ODI cricket.
Two months after the World Cup, England hired Trevor Bayliss as a new coach as part of an overhaul of the national team. This was a major step toward improving the country’s ODI fortunes, as Bayliss had a proven track record in the white-ball format, having led Sri Lanka to the 2011 World Cup final and won the Indian Premier League twice with Kolkata Knight Riders.
Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, cited Bayliss’ success in limited-overs cricket as a distinguishing factor in his appointment. Suddenly, ODIs and Twenty20s weren’t just afterthoughts in English cricket.
Two weeks earlier, Strauss himself was appointed in a newly-created role that made him responsible for the long-term strategy of the England team in all formats. He has also put more focus on the shorter formats, ensuring a separation of the Test and ODI teams, and welcoming the opportunities for English players to experience the IPL and Big Bash.
Calling for a rebalancing of priorities to prevent England from “sleepwalking” into the 2019 World Cup, Strauss said: “Our country is generally quite red-ball focussed, but that doesn’t mean it has to be at the expense of white-ball cricket.”
As part of the shake-up, Strauss has arranged for a three-match North vs. South series to be played in the UAE in March in a bid to identify more up-and-coming players for future global ODI tournaments.
The change in approach of the England’s current limited-overs teams is striking. Playing with freedom and without fear, England has set six of its best eight ODI scores since the 2015 World Cup. They have won four of their six ODI series since the World Cup — losing the other two 3-2 to South Africa and world champions Australia.
If the World Cup was next month, England might even be favourite.
“They have the ability to bully the opposition, just like the great Australian sides of the past,” former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote Wednesday in his column for British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
“The problem with this kind of performance is that expectations go up. I have said for a while that this is England’s greatest group of one-day players. But they have to back that up by winning tournaments and key moments in big games.”
England lost the World T20 final to West Indies in April, when Carlos Brathwaite struck four straight sixes in the final over from which 19 was needed. England’s next tilt at a global title will come on home soil in the Champions Trophy next year.
But the trophy Strauss, Bayliss and the team really have their eyes on is the World Cup in 2019, also hosted in England.