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Monday, February 23, 2015

World Cup Report Match 14: England v Scotland

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From the very moment that Scotland captain Preston Mommsen won the toss today, and elected to send England in to bat, the chance of an upset result in this match was effectively over. Though at the time his reasoning may have been sound - try and catch England's batsmen while they were still in shock after their pummeling at the hands of New Zealand on Friday - it was a false hope. Better to have tried to take on the England bowlers first, who surely had more scars than their batsmen after their obliteration by Brendan McCullum, and make the batsmen sweat it out before trying to (hopefully) chase down a total of 250. Under that kind of pressure, who knows what would have happened? England had kept the same team that had received the spanking from the Kiwi's - either to give them all a chance of redemption, or simply because the tour selectors have no faith at all in the remaining four players in the squad - and all of them must have felt as though they were on notice.

Instead, Ian Bell and especially Moeen Ali found the Scotland attack very friendly indeed, and took full advantage. While Bell struggled for fluency but still worked the ball around, Ali punched and counter-punched at every opportunity, hitting the ball to all corners of the ground against the hapless Scots. The pair cruised along at 6 an over without any trouble, barely considering to accelerate as they worked through the Scots bowling line up. It wasn't until Bell fell at 172 that any problems appeared. His 54 off 84 was circumspect, but with his partner doing the job at the other end he did his job admirably. Ali was finally dismissed with the score on 201, for an excellent 128 off 107 deliveries. At 2/201 off 34 overs, England had to be eyeing off 350 as a minimum score. Every other team in the competition seems to be score a minimum of 110-120 in the last 10 overs at least. England, though, as they do, appeared incapable of this. Ali was followed in quick succession by Ballance (who must surely have played his final match of the tournament) and Root, and having lost 3/2 in 11 deliveries the momentum of the opening partnership was completely lost. England managed to recover slightly to reach 8/303 off their 50 overs, meaning only 7/102 had come from the last 16 overs - not bad in the "old days", but a relative doddle in this new age of one day cricket. In this match, it was always going to be enough.
Scotland was brave, but undermanned. Kyle Coetzer scored an excellent 71 from the opening position, no doubt familiar with the attack from his County cricket, but once he was the fourth man out at 122, any resistance failed. Scotland managed to reach 184 before being dismissed, giving England their first victory.

Does this place England back on track? It probably leaves as many questions unanswered as it answers. You would surely think Alex Hales would be a better option than Gary Ballance, even if he had a bash at 6 and promote James Taylor back to number 3. Steve Finn's figures were better today than Friday, though I'd have thought the suspicion in his role remains, and that Chris Jordan is still worth a try. For Scotland, their quest for their first victory in a World Cup fixture continues, but to achieve it they will need to continue to improve all facets of their play, because they need more runs from their batsmen to defend, and better penetration from their bowlers to dismiss.

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