For the longest time, England did not beat Australia at one-day cricket. In the general sense, not the specific. There were matches along the journey that went England’s way, even brief periods of ascendancy. But as a rule, that team did not beat Australia. It was always the exception.
The first one-day international ever played, as a fill-in match in Melbourne in 1971, the home team won. England’s worst losing streak stretched to 14 matches in March 2003. In the first 15 years of the current century, England’s win-loss record read 18-45. That was when everything changed.
Since then, England’s one-day team has gone 13-3 against Australia. The era began in the northern season of 2015. The Australians had already won that year’s World Cup while England got bounced out of the tournament without making the final eight teams. The champions duly won the first two games of a series. England though had started a complete rebuild of the one-day team: personnel, tactics, attitude. Their new combination bounced back to win the next two.
An opener named Jason Roy blazed a fast fifty in that first win. So did the captain, Eoin Morgan. The spinners, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, controlled the middle overs. Liam Plunkett took wickets. In the second win Moeen did it again, after left-arm swing bowler David Willey took bulk wickets in the opening overs. Australia recovered, but the English pulled off what would become their party trick of chasing scores over 300. Morgan was prominent again.
Those were the kind of performances that would defend England’s successful next four years. Ben Stokes was in that 2015 team too, with Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes and Alex Hales. Mark Wood played the next match, Jos Buttler had played previously in the series. The only players from 2015 who were not still in the mix approaching the 2019 World Cup were batsman James Taylor, retired prematurely with a heart problem, and fast bowler Steven Finn.
The lesson in all of this is that World Cup planning starts early. The England team of 2015 was not the finished product, and ended up losing the fifth and deciding match of that particular series to Australia. But the England team was at least close to a fixed product, which gave its players four years to learn how to pursue the game together. That team would go on to knock Australia out of the Champions Trophy and the next World Cup, along with steamrolling a couple of bilateral series in the meantime.
In 2020 the roles are pretty well reversed. The English are now are the world champions who will have to refocus, the Australians are the ones who have to move on from a limp World Cup exit. In this context, there is an argument for Australia to settle on a plan and back it rather than experiment.
This is where there is a big difference between England’s 2015 and Australia’s 2020. When coach Trevor Bayliss assembled his England team, the players were not unknowns but they were mostly on the younger side and picked on promise. Some were project players, others had ability that had not quite been channelled yet. Almost all of them were aged between 24 and 26 at that point, with Plunkett the only one just over 30.
The Australians conversely have a team built around players who have been doing their thing at international level for a long time. Experience is valuable and age need not be a determining factor, but it is a consideration when the next World Cup is three years away. On the evidence of this tour the plan involves Aaron Finch and David Warner contesting the tournament at 36 years of age. Matthew Wade would be 35, Glenn Maxwell 34, Steve Smith and Marcus Stoinis 33. Usman Khawaja’s omission probably had as much to do with not having another 33-year-old as not needing another top-order batsman.
Of the current bowlers, AJ Tye would be aged 36 by the next Cup, Nathan Lyon 35, Mitchell Starc 33, Josh Hazlewood and Kane Richardson 32, Sean Abbott 31 and Mitchell Marsh 31. Daniel Sams, often referred to as a young all-rounder, will be 30, as will Adam Zampa. Pat Cummins and Ashton Agar would be 29. The only players on the younger end of things would be Marnus Labuschagne, Josh Philippe and Riley Meredith.
All those experienced players can deliver. The question then is more about game style than the talent on offer. A style was what England developed so clearly in 2015 and stuck with throughout. Australia looked to lack a clear style during last year’s World Cup. They beat England in a warm-up match and in the group stage by grinding away with their bowlers, but could not hold back the local batting approach in the semi-final.
Neither team has hit the ground running in this next quadrennial cycle: in nearly 14 months since that last tournament, England played six ODIs and Australia seven. Pandemic responses and preparation for the now-postponed Twenty20 World Cup got in the way. That makes the three upcoming ODIs all the more relevant. Finally both teams get the chance to measure up against one another. England have last year’s trophy and still have many of the players who claimed it. In this coming series, in a new world era, England are expected to win.