AFTER a short break for Christmas and the New Year, England’s cricketers return to action a week tomorrow when they begin a three-match one-day series in India.
If the recent Test series between the two countries is anything to go by, it promises to be a one-sided affair.
But whereas England’s Test performances remain up and down (and considerably more down than up on the sub-continent, where India thrashed them 4-0 before Christmas), they are a different proposition in one-day cricket.
So much so, confidence is high that 2017 could bring a first global one-day trophy when England host the Champions Trophy.
Although Test cricket remains the priority, with another Ashes series coming up at the end of the year, England have been developing a strong one-day side since the 2015 World Cup.
The supine nature of England’s showings in that competition, when their approach was exposed as utterly outdated, prompted an overdue revamp of how they play the one-day game.
Since then, England have upped the ante in terms of their scoring rate and achieved success through positive play.
Last year, they hit 444-3 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge – not only the highest total in one-day internationals, but also something that would have seemed utterly absurd had it been suggested in early 2015.
For this remarkable transformation, captain Eoin Morgan, coach Trevor Bayliss and director of cricket Andrew Strauss deserve to take credit, along, of course, with each and every player.
Suddenly, one-day cricket is exciting when England are in town, and the 50-over format itself has received a shot in the arm as a direct result.
When Paul Downton, the then managing director, returned home from England’s calamitous World Cup campaign, he ruefully reflected that the 50-over game was now being played at Twenty20 pace.
Anyone with a fleeting knowledge of the game could have told him that, but England were slow to cotton on before finally realising that the best way to play 50-over cricket was not to view it as a shorter version of Test cricket, but to embrace it as an extension of Twenty20.
Now England have caught up with the rest of the world to the extent that they are as dangerous as anyone, particularly at home.
In June, the cards and conditions will be in their favour when the Champions Trophy gets under way.
The top two teams in each group of four go through to the semi-finals, with England’s group including Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia.
Although it is not an easy first section, featuring, as it does, both World Cup finalists from 2015, there is nothing to fear for Morgan and his men, who would then be just two matches away from winning the cup.
Ironically, as England build towards the tournament, the only suggestion of a cloud in the sky is Morgan’s batting form.
The Irishman has managed just two half-centuries in his last 16 ODI innings, and he could desperately do with a good series in India personally, as well as team-wise.
Morgan faces pressure not just because of England’s batting reserves, which are considerable, but because Jos Buttler proved a success as captain when Morgan chose to miss the recent one-day series in Bangladesh due to security concerns, along with team-mate Alex Hales.
Buttler did well in leading England to a 2-1 victory, a result helped by two half-centuries from Ben Duckett, who was left out of the one-day squad for India to accommodate the returning Morgan.
Whether Morgan’s authority has been weakened remains to be seen, with former England captain Michael Vaughan insisting that Morgan had made “a huge mistake” and that “I do not see how he can look them (the players) in the eye”.
Vaughan nevertheless believes that Morgan will be captain for the Champions Trophy, with Strauss unlikely to make a change to the leadership at this late stage.
However, the former Yorkshire batsman is not alone in thinking that Morgan will not be in charge come the 2019 World Cup, which is also being held in England.
“No, I do not see it happening,” said Vaughan.
At the same time, Morgan deserves plenty of plaudits for the turnaround in England’s one-day fortunes, as Vaughan himself is the first to admit.
“England’s one-day team has been a revelation over the past 18 months,” he added.
“Since being knocked out of the 2015 World Cup after some abysmal performances, the team has reinvented England’s approach to the one-day format.
“Under captain Eoin Morgan and coach Trevor Bayliss, the team has adopted an attacking, ultra-positive approach that makes them one of the most exciting England teams to watch in any sport.
“They are a rival for any other one-day side in the world.”
A big reason for that is a batting line-up that features any number of players who can take down opponents.
Hales is a prime example, the Nottinghamshire man having smashed 171 from 122 balls with 22 fours and four sixes when England made their record score against Pakistan last year.
Jason Roy, his opening partner, is another dynamic player, while Yorkshire’s Joe Root glues the whole thing together.
Throw in Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, and there are more match-winners in the side than you could shake a copy of The Yorkshire Post at, while even the bowlers are handy with the bat – not least the Yorkshire trio of David Willey, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid, who provide great variety.
After the forthcoming series in India, England play three ODIs in the West Indies, two at home to Ireland and three at home to South Africa before the Champions Trophy starts in earnest.
This year, they will never have a better chance of translating their skill into overdue silverware.