The men’s international season is now well and truly underway, brightening up some bleak English winter mornings for me. Here’s five talking points from the first and second ODIs between Australia and India.
This week’s demolition by the old enemy in the World Cup semi-final will surely pain Australian cricket fans for some time.
Despite a promising campaign, their team was totally bossed on the biggest stage.
But my advice would be to keep calm and carry on: it’s no disgrace, or surprise, to lose to England these days.
England’s bowling performance at Edgbaston was fearsome, summed up perfectly by Jofra Archer’s vicious bouncer which hit Alex Carey. The Barbados-born speedster showed a little concern for the Aussie keeper after the incident, but not too much either, heading off casually for a drink.
The message was clear: ‘I’m here to dominate you.’
In reply, England’s batting was typically positive and they never looked like missing Australia’s total of 223. If they had kept batting their full 50 overs a score of 350+ was probable. Australia would have needed plenty of luck to get those sorts of runs against Archer, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and co.
It seems the English side has found the perfect mix at the moment, certainly for one day cricket at least. Irish-born skipper Eoin Morgan puts the success down to the side re-inventing itself after the 2015 World Cup, where England crashed out in the group stage.
But I’d say it’s part of something bigger. In this age of near hyper-professionalism in sport, England is just getting the maximum out of what they have got, better than anyone else.
Firstly, there’s the makeup of the English squad itself. With five overseas-born players and two others of South Asian background, the team is easily the most multicultural of any team at the tournament. Not only does the side reflect the truly diverse nature of modern-day England, it shows an openness by the administration to get the best cricketers into the side to do the job.
Then there is the leadership and decision-making in English cricket. Since the dark days under former chairman Giles Clarke, performances and tactics have really improved. Andrew Strauss, who until last year worked as director of cricket, made tough calls on structures and coaches.
In Ed Smith and James Taylor, England have two recently retired players with cool heads, on the selection panel. They understand the modern game and its demands well, having just left the top level.
But the success of English cricket is part of a broader improvement in British sport too. Driven on by globalisation and big money, Britain is dominating in a range of sports from netball to football, rugby to cycling. Its swimmers even pick up gold medals at the Olympics now.
Only half a generation ago England was the laughing stock of world sport. Pretty hopeless in the sports that it helped invent, its Olympic performances were well below the mark too.
But since the Beijing 2008 Olympics things have changed. The reasons include increased funding via lottery money but also a concerted effort to put in a good performance at their home Games in 2012.
At the same time, Australia’s Olympic performances have gone backwards, from a medal perspective at least. While we were fourth in the overall medal count in Sydney, we recently finished tenth in Rio in 2016. Within a decade, Australia has gone from beating the UK to looking on jealously.
It’s only in some areas of women’s sport, where Australia still has the edge of England – and the rest of the world – these days. This likely comes from our comparatively early adoption of professionalism, but the competition will catch up soon.
As a staunch fan of Aussie sport it gives me no pleasure in pointing out this change in the world sports pecking order, but it’s becoming clearer every year. For this reason, Aussie cricket fans needn’t feel embarrassed by their loss to England at the World Cup.
It’s just part of a broader trend.