There wasn’t much to be gleaned from England’s two 50-over matches against Ireland, which Eoin Morgan’s team won at a canter. Blown away in the first, at Bristol, Ireland were almost in the game during the second one at Lord’s, though almost doesn’t really cut it for a team that wants to use its one-day international status as a springboard to Test cricket.
For England, the best and most heartening news was the return of Mark Wood from another operation on a troublesome left ankle. Wood has gas (speed), or at least he does when fully fit and firing, something we saw in glimpses on his return.
He needs to be fast. Being a skiddy bowler often makes it easier for batsmen, allowing them to play the same shot irrespective of the ball’s length. It means they can set themselves more easily to hit, something Ireland’s Paul Stirling did with brutal elan until edging the taller Jake Ball behind for a quickfire 48.
Wood’s first four overs cost 26 runs, hardly disastrous were it not for David Willey haemorrhaging 23 runs off three overs at the other end. Other teams will punish England after getting off to such a flyer, who might be well advised not to open the bowling with two skidders like Wood and Willey. To my mind, skidders are better off bowling most of their overs outside the Powerplays, when their lack of bounce can help in setting, and bowling to, a defensive field.
The likelihood, with Chris Woakes returning from the Indian Premier League, is that Willey and Wood won’t take the new ball together anyway, though the Ireland game did bring some unwanted focus on Willey’s role. At present, he opens in the expectation that he will swing the ball and nip one or two out in the opening Powerplay.
So far this summer the ball has not swung, at least not in England games. But even when it has Willey has not tended to bowl his full complement of 10 overs – something he has not managed to do in any of his last 11 one-day internationals. That suggests he is a specialist at the front end of the innings only, a niche within a niche.
It is the exact opposite to Harry Gurney, the left-arm pace bowler he replaced in the side. Gurney was a death specialist who offered zilch with the bat, very little verve in the field, but had a good line in yorkers and slower balls. His metier was to bowl four or five overs at the end of an innings. Willey can bat and field pretty well, but bowling is his main role and one that appears to be shrinking by the game.
Which brings me to the joys of extra bounce, as achieved by tall bowlers with high actions like Ball. With bounce, bowlers can force batsmen to adjust their footwork and also find areas of the bat that aren’t the middle.
Last Sunday at Lord’s, Ball came on after Willey had proved expensive and immediately forced the rampant Stirling to change his approach. A scoring-rate of seven runs an over was dragged back to four and the dangerous Stirling was dismissed trying to force away a ball that bounced on him from around off-stump. Taller bowlers can have their issues when bowling at the death – their steeper trajectory means they have less margin for error with their yorkers – but Ball is a very modern bowler who employs cutters into the pitch as way of variation.
As such he can bowl at any time in the innings, a true all-rounder with the ball and a must for England’s Champions Trophy team.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, May 12 2017
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