What a paradox – Australia losing The Oval Test and celebrating as they had earlier retained the Ashes.
In the Cricket World Cup opener last week, England and South Africa were vastly different as they each began their chase for a maiden World Cup title.
For England, it has been a dramatic turn of fortunes over the last four years leading to this mega event. While the celebrations from the Barmy Army were premature, how the hosts kicked off their campaign was profoundly stirring.
This was unlike South Africa, who have had an exodus of players in the past few years while England’s talent has grown in leaps and bounds. Their abundance of invaluable resources hasn’t hit a roadblock, which is a decisive factor in the hosts’ preparation for the tournament.
On batting-friendly decks, the English batsmen are murderous. The only hindrance in England’s way to the World Cup trophy is their ability to adapt to conditions where the batsmen need to take a back seat.
Although their batsmen didn’t shift their approach entirely, it was Ben Stokes – a relatively unlikely candidate – who lit up the Oval with his lion-hearted presence, not only with the bat but also with the ball and in the field.
Consistency and depth. These two things have stood out for England as well as their sporadic but haunting collapses.
On Thursday at the Oval, those two qualities came together to give England a realisation of what will serve them better in the crunch games. Such was the scenario that their batsmen are fully capable of backing each other up.
If Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow couldn’t get them off to a flyer, Jason Roy along with Joe Root and Eoin Morgan made sure to maintain the team’s charge. Even though it was one of those rare days when runs didn’t flow from Jos Buttler’s bat, England managed to scrape past 300.
At Headingley against Pakistan, where Ben Stokes hinted at a resurgence, there was a warning sign to the opposition of what he is capable of on his day. At the Oval against South Africa, Stokes had it all and displayed his skills in all facets in spectacular fashion.
With Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler going back to the pavilion, it was Stokes’ presence that kept the hosts ticking towards a formidable total. However, England needed to mould their style of batting slightly.
For a team characterised by passion and intensity over the last four years, it required them to pick the gaps, run hard, and save the burst for the final three or four overs.
Even though England ended up far short of what was projected, they exceeded expectations with the ball. The fact that their players from the lower order can even contribute some precious runs while also batting judiciously proves the depth England possesses to scale any target.
The hosts – dubbed pre-tournament favourites – began their campaign on a positive note. It indeed calmed their nerves on their quest to clinch their first World Cup.