Football correspondent, Dan Steeden, reports on Aston Villa's latest home game, a match which might be the turning point in their season.Written by Dan Steeden on 10th February 2016
England thrash Australia at their own game to near the summit of cricket
Felix Keith looks back at yet another successful series for England and anticipates the Test squad for the South Africa contest starting next week...
England were simply too good for Australia in the recent one-day international series and had the third ODI at Edgbaston not been rained off they could have sat at the top of the ICC rankings in every format of cricket. They completed the rout with a comfortable win via the Duckworth Lewis method at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening. In doing so they made history as the first English side ever to win four matches in a one-day series against Australia.
Australia were thoroughly out-bowled, out-batted and out-played from start to finish. The number one ranked team were made to look mediocre by a superb England, who moved up the rankings to just one point behind Australia in the process. England have now won 10 straight ODI matches and look like a side that believes they can win anything under the captaincy of Alastair Cook and the guidance of Andy Flower.
The gulf in class between the two sides is very clear when you look at a few of the most telling statistics from the series. The home side took 30 Australian wickets in the four matches, whereas the visitors only managed a meagre 13 and never even got near to exposing the tail (not that England really have such a thing). But it wasn’t just the bowling attack that struggled. Ex-Australian fast bowler Dirk Nannes highlighted another problem whilst on BBC’s Test Match Special: 'The Australian batting line-up doesn't look like a number-one ranked side. If you put Mike Hussey into the team, it changes it a bit, but losing Ricky Ponting at number three has left a big hole. You can't replace those two easily.'
But replace them they must. The Ashes are next year and Australia will need to be much better in every department to stand a chance of taking them home. Their promising young fast bowlers Pat Cummings and James Pattinson failed to provide any reason why England should fear them in 12 months time. Indeed, the newer faces in the batting department also failed, but captain Michael Clarke was candid in his post-match interview hoping that this experience will stand them in good stead come next year.
In complete contrast this series has only furthered the confidence in the English team. The selectors for the much hyped South Africa series, starting next Thursday, have some serious thinking to do. Do they stick with the raw talent of Jonny Bairstow or the ‘come of age’ Ravi Bopara? Bairstow seemed to have the backing of the selectors in the previous West Indies series in which he offered much but really failed to deliver a substantial repaying of that faith. So will they turn to the much tried Bopara? It has to be said that the Essex man has never looked so tempting. He has gone from a nervous middle order stop-gap to a certified and confident stroke maker who is more than handy with the ball. He has finally managed to bring his prolific county form into an England shirt and with influential captain Cook singing his praises he may well be overlooked no longer.
A similar selection issue that has arisen out of this series is that of Steven Finn who was extremely impressive throughout. His fast, aggressive and increasingly accurate style of bowling caused the Australians the most problems and he might have just forced his way into the best bowling attack in the world. In commentary Michael Vaughan called him ‘the best ODI bowler in the world’ and that is high praise indeed. Finn’s chances may hang on the perception that he still might lack the consistency required as a Test bowler; he does seem to struggle sometimes to control his pace, tending to stray in line and length. His inclusion could well hinge on the severity of Tim Bresnan’s elbow injury.
This series has served as further evidence as to why England are the best side in the world. They are supremely confident, have a great attitude and a perfect balance of players: the batsmen are consistent and the bowlers ruthless. Never has there been a time of such optimism in English cricket – the perfect time to take on South Africa.