The five-match ODI series between the arch-rivals Australia and England will kick off from 29th June. England are riding high on the crest of a string of series victories in the last one year while Australia’s form in the 50-over format has been rather patchy during the same period.
England have won the last six ODI series played at home defeating some strong sides like Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. Recently, they thrashed West Indies 2-0.
England look a spirited ODI side under Alastair Cook. They have won eight of 12 matches played at home in the last 12 months. Of the other four, one was a tie and the other a wash-out. Cook’s tenure began with a 3-2 win over Sri Lanka and 3-0 over India and, after a horrendous series in India in which they were pummeled 5-0, England eviscerated Pakistan 4-0 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Though Australia won the triangular Commonwealth Bank Series at home this year, their performance was inconsistent. In their next series in the Caribbean, they could only manage to draw the five-match ODI series 2-2 against a weak and inexperienced West Indies side while the one match ended as a tie.
England have made gargantuan strides as an ODI side from the time Cook was appointed as captain in June 2011. Not only has he led from the front and guided his side to a stream of victories since then; he amassed 1035 runs, the highest by any England player in the same period, at an astonishing average of 54.47 and a sturdy batting strike-rate of 91.59. Cook proved his detractors wrong who labeled him as a ‘plodder’ and his transformation as an ODI batsman has been instrumental in England’s robust run post the 2011 World Cup.
Cook leads the batting pack for England in the stipulated period followed by Kevin Pietersen. Jonathan Trott, Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan and Craig Kieswetter have chipped in with handy contributions when the team needed. Though the untimely retirement of Pietersen from ODIs came as a huge blow to England, Ian Bell - included in the team as Pietersen’s replacement - has done exceptionally well in his new innings as an ODI batsman.
The bowling is the strongest suit of this English squad. Steven Finn, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, and Graeme Swann are wicket-taking bowlers while Jade Denbach, with all his variations, has proven handy in the death overs.
Finn heads the bowling table with 27 wickets in the last 12 months, closely followed by Swann and Anderson. Swann, a wily spinner who can turn the course of the match, is a perfect foil for a galaxy of pacers in the team. Broad and Anderson can wreak havoc in conditions where the ball swings as both of them don’t shy away from pitching the ball up. Finn can generate potent pace and sharp lift.
Australia is a top-ranked side in ODIs, though their performances have not beem as impressive as England’s of late. They clinched the CB Series but it was largely due to a few key batting efforts, while the inability to beat West Indies would have rankled.
Apart from an aging Brett Lee, Australia lack a strike bowler. Ben Hilfenhaus and Clint McKay shone in one-off matches but didn’t do much of note in other matches. Australia found themselves in trouble when on a few occasions, Lee was taken apart by the opposition. Their Achilles heel is the deficiency of a quality spinner, a snag which has haunted them since the retirement of Shane Warne.
Lee’s record in England is superlative, however. In 15 matches he has taken 29 wickets against England in England, the highest by any bowler since January 2000, with a couple of five-wicket hauls. English conditions suit his brand of bowling, pitching the ball up and making it swing at a breakneck pace and Australia would rely heavily on Lee to excel.
Hilfenhaus can also move the ball both ways. With Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, Australia’s pace attack looks much more potent than before. The absence of a quality spinner like Swann means they have to make do with part-timers like Michael Clarke apart from Xavier Doherty, who is the highest wicket-taker for Australia in ODIs in last 12 months and proving a handy ODI bowler.
Australia have a fine opening pair in the form of David Warner and Shane Watson. Recently, Watson has gotten starts without converting them into big innings and though Warner is in smashing form, he has little experience of playing in England it will be a compelling contest to see him against bowlers like Anderson, Broad and Finn.
In the middle, Australia will miss Michael Hussey and that leaves only Clarke and to a lesser extent David Hussey with experience. Peter Forrest accumulated runs in the CB Series but his strike-rate isn’t enviable, and crafty bowlers like Swann might stifle him for runs. Matthew Wade is quickly becoming a handy wicket-keeper batsman for Australia in ODIs, and George Bailey is still a rookie.
The innovative and spirited leadership of Clarke adds a lot to the team’s cause.
Australia have played 23 ODIs against England in England since January 2000, out of which they have won 14 and lost seven, one ended in a tie while one match was washed out. Three bilateral took place between them in England during this period. In 2005, Australia won 2-1 and in 2009, they emerged victorious 6-1. In 2010, England got the better of the visitors with a 3-2 series win.
The record may favour Australia but on the basis of current form and team combination, England hold the edge – slightly. Australia are not too far behind and are developing as a world-class side under the inspirational captaincy of Clarke. A lot of young players, fast bowlers in particular, are coming through the ranks and evoking hopes of ushering in another glorious era for Australian cricket.
Both Cook and Clarke are very fine captains and are in resplendent form. This series promises to be a spectacle after the rather tame England versus West Indies contests.