Friday 31 January 2014 

Comment: Top Order Still Needs To Lay Platform

Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook
Could the likes of Kevin Pietersen (left) and Alastair Cook be the answer to England's top-order woes?
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

When Twenty20 cricket was introduced, and to a lesser extent when One-Day International cricket was created, the perceived wisdom was to go for all-out attack from the first over; it was thought that to take advantage of the fielding restrictions and the hard new ball it was vital to get off to a flying start, even at the cost of losing a few early wickets.

The only premier international team who have consistently flown in the face of this tactic, is England.

They have been criticised during the past 10 years for failing to move with the modern game and attack during the first 10 overs of an ODI or the first six of a Twenty20 match. In English conditions, the tactic of laying a solid platform for the middle order to capitalise on, is a sound game plan. But many have argued that on Australian and sun-continental pitches a more devil may care approach is required at the top of the order.

Despite this, after England’s humiliating batting performance in the second T20 match in Australia, it is vital that Stuart Broad’s team revert back to type and attempt to lay some sort of platform at the top of the order.

It makes sense, particularly with the way England have lined up during this series, with the bulk of their in-form big hitters occupying the middle order. One of Alex Hales, Michael Lumb and Luke Wright needs to spend some time in the middle and make a score of over 50 to anchor the innings.

Eoin Morgan, Joss Buttler and Ravi Bopara are all undoubtedly talented players, but only so much can be expected of them if they have to keep coming in with the score at 30 and three wickets already lost.

England need to look back at their own recent history rather than looking towards other teams for solutions to their batting woes. While most other teams have profited from a quick start by the top four followed by lower order runs, England have been most successful when their top order has played more circumspectly and one of their top four has made a score of 70+.

One of the best results for England in recent years in ODI cricket came in the UAE two years ago, England won that series 4-0, and they did so with consistent top order runs. One of the openers made a century in all four matches, two from Alastair Cook and two from Kevin Pietersen; two players who incidentally haven’t featured in England’s ODI or T20 teams for a while.

These platforms allowed England to rack up scores of 300+ and to chase scores in excess of 200 with consummate ease.

Although it is difficult to learn from other teams, England must look in envy as they see Cameron White and Aaron Finch getting Australia of to a flying start in both the Twenty20 games so far. They have allowed the middle order to come in and play their shots but they have also got the innings moving and scored at a healthy run rate.

If England doesn’t possess the batting power to provide both, then they must endeavour to give the middle order a more solid platform at the top in T20 cricket.

It doesn’t matter what form of the game England are playing, their style is, and should remain, to build from the top and lay a platform for their powerful middle order. Sure, if England develop someone in the David Warner or Aaron Finch mould, then by all means they should adjust their game plan. But while their ODI team, and to a lesser extent their T20 team, is populated with technique-conscious, classical players, then it makes logical sense for them to stick to the approach their familiar with.

Whereas in T20 cricket the top order need to lay a platform because it allows their powerful middle order the licence to paly shots, in ODI cricket it is because their best players are in top three.

England will likely line up in the World Cup next year with a top three of Cook, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, if one of these players is able to contribute a substantial innings on a regular basis then England have a small fighting chance in the tournament.

Without a strong top order then England’s chances are hopeful at best.

© Cricket World 2014

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Fixtures & Results

12th January: 1st ODI, M.C.G, Melbourne
AUS 270-4 beat ENG 269-7 by 6 wickets
17th January: 2nd ODI, Gabba, Brisbane
AUS 301-9 beat ENG 300-8 by 1 wicket
19th January: 3rd ODI, S.C.G, Sydney
AUS 244-3 beat ENG 243-9 by 7 wickets
24th January: 4th ODI, WACA, Perth
ENG 316-8 beat AUS 259 by 57 runs
26th January: 5th ODI, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
AUS 217-9 beat ENG 212 by 5 runs
29th January: 1st T20I, Bellerive Oval, Hobart
AUS 213-4 beat ENG 200-9 by 13 runs
31st January: 2nd T20I, M.C.G, Melbourne
AUS 131-2 beat ENG 130-9 by 8 wickets
2nd February: 3rd T20I, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
AUS 195-6 beat ENG 111 by 84 runs