Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cricket: Genius of Morgan helps England to find their rhythm

England's bowling will decide their fate against the Aussies, writes Mike Selvey

A ndy Flower is a realist. The hyperbole he leaves for others. For now, he is a man content with the idea that his side are in today's World Twenty20 final, but with the perspective that second is nowhere. And in one-day cricket, England have been nowhere for a long time now.

They will meet an Australia side that has the most extraordinary resilience and recovery of a kind that is not available to England.

Mike Hussey's half-century to defeat Pakistan must be recognised as remarkable -- "freakish", Michael Clarke, the Australia captain called it -- played as it was with the heaviest prospect of elimination from the competition, and it came in partnership with Cameron White, whose power hitting snatched the momentum away from Pakistan in an instant.

It is these two who are the stand-out batsmen in the side, the ones whose hovering presence elevates Australia's batting to a threatening level beyond that of any other side, including England, for whom Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan, occupying the same positions at six and seven, do not carry quite the same threat.

It is telling, though, that, too often for their comfort, the Australia top order has collapsed, key being the dismissals of the muscular openers, Shane Watson and David Warner. If White and Hussey have been stand-out performers, then it is, in part, because they have had to be. Wright and Bresnan have faced only 100 balls between them; White and Hussey twice that number.

Then, though, there is the Australian bowling, backed by brilliant fielding, with Dirk Nannes the most incisive new-ball bowler of the tournament, Shaun Tait the fastest and Mitchell Johnson reliable, and possessing some of the variation lacked by the other two. From this, the young leg-spinner Steven Smith has been able to reap wicket-taking advantage, knowing that he has to be targeted for treatment in the wake of the bombardment at the other end. The fast-bowling trio are not invulnerable to attack, however. Speed alone, even at Bridgetown, is not a guarantee of success.

Consider the treatment meted out by England, and Kevin Pietersen in particular, to Dale Steyn -- whom he hit for 23 runs from the eight balls faced -- and his partner Morne Morkel, regarded as the best pairing in world cricket, but who conceded 90 runs from eight overs here last week. Pace off the bat counts too. They are vulnerable with their fifth bowler, a mixture of Watson's ordinary, hittable medium pace, and the spin of Clarke and David Hussey. But England, despite Flower's deadpan pragmatism, are comfortable with their progress. They have a brace of destructive openers -- although neither has yet to convert a pyrotechnic start into a large individual innings -- and in Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and the iceman Eoin Morgan, one of the best T20 middle orders, on paper at least. Of these, Collingwood has yet to produce, but has shown the capacity in the past to do so when it matters.

Dubliner Morgan has had a lot to do with England's resurgence. John Embury calls him "a genius" and if he delivers today, even the Aussies might wilt. If England win this final, it will ultimately be down to the bowling. Every over, bar one from Collingwood, has been sent down by the same five, who, under the eye of new bowling coach David Saker, go into each match with a complete understanding of their role.

England have adapted their methods to the change in conditions better than Australia. Perhaps the most significant development has been an upgrade in the analysis of the opposition. Knowledge is everything: where does he score; what are the innovations, vulnerabilities, default big shot?

They have assembled a bowling attack that covers angles and variations: Ryan Sidebottom, left arm; Bresnan, bustling right arm; Stuart Broad, tall instinctive wicket-taker; the contrasting spin of Graeme Swann, the best finger-spinner in the business at present; and Michael Yardy, a mystery bowler in the sense that it is a mystery how he gets away with it. They know that the role of the seamers is to take early wickets during the powerplay so that the spinners can bottle up the middle of the innings. And they know their role in the final assault.

Maybe, though, it has run its course. There is a chance for one final change. Has Bresnan's method become too obvious? Could England spring a last surprise and unveil Jimmy Anderson?

England v Australia,

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