“These are quite early days but the young seamer has everything England need in this One Day setup. If he can merely live up to his reputation in the domestic circuit, Stone isn’t going anywhere else”
He has only played three One Day Internationals to-date taking a solo wicket, yet Olly Stone, the 25-year-old Northants player with searing pace, is making headlines for all the right reasons. His returns of one wicket at an average of 47 might make purists choke, but for England, his value could go beyond numbers if he can be the x-factor in England’s bowling line-up.
Much of England’s performance since the last World Cup has been about their stunning batting metamorphosis. Little has been said or written about their bowling attack. Since the World Cup, England have a record number of totals above 300 – 32 of them – with the second best scoring half of what they have. That kind of insane hitting has been the focus in England’s mesmerising show in One Day Internationals.
But, unaware to many is the fact that they have also conceded the most number of 300-plus scores in this time frame – 19 of them. Some of this might have to do with the kind of pitches England play in back home but it must be remembered that the marauding, big hitting line-up has managed to win just 9 of the 22 matches in which they end up conceding more than 300.
Much of England’s bowling has depended on Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett; two unlikely heroes, yet the lynchpins of England’s spin bowling and fast bowling units. The duo has contributed to 189 of the 518 wickets England have taken since the World Cup, a percentage of 36.48, and have been critical to England finding breakthroughs in the middle and death overs.
That the likes of Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali haven’t moved mountains is of concern to England for they do not have a match-winner in the bowling line-up and their two existing heroes, mini ones at that, aren’t really top of the pile. Plunkett, in particular, is a rare commodity in the England ODI side.
He bowls skiddy pace in the middle-overs and is more or less in the team for his ability to break partnerships with his cutters, slower balls and quick, skiddy bouncers. Variations have been key to Plunkett’s resurrected career and a strike rate of 28.1 shows that he is England’s best bowler in this format of the game.
That he seems almost irreplaceable is evident from how England perform in his absence. They have conceded 11 scores in excess of 300 – out of 19 – with Plunkett in the side. They key, though, is the fact that they have won 7 out of these which points towards a mere high scoring trend on the day or on the surface rather than an issue with the bowling.
England also are more likely to break partnerships quicker with Plunkett in the side. They pick a wicket every 36th ball with Plunkett in and every 41st ball when he isn’t. The strike rates and averages are also considerably different and it is perhaps true that their mini-hero is almost irreplaceable.
Yet, now, with Stone coming into the setup, there is a glimmer of hope in finding a match-winner in the bowling line-up. “Liam [Plunkett] has been phenomenal for us for the last few years and when he went down injured in Australia and we found it very difficult to get a bowler with the same attributes, to bowl quick and change the pace of the game at any stage of the 50 overs,” England skipper, Eoin Morgan says.
“There were signs today suggest Olly could be one of those guys. Even taking the new ball gives him a new string to his bow, Liam doesn’t really do that. I don’t think you can disregard Olly from the World Cup based on today.”
For someone playing his debut match in the format, that is an immense compliment to get from the skipper. England need Stone to back up his captain’s words with telling performances. He is a dark horse for the World Cup squad at the moment but if he can keep cranking up the pace, use his variations cleverly and find ways of picking wickets, Plunkett will be challenged.
Stone’s debut wicket of Niroshan Dickwella, a brute of a bouncer that left the Sri Lankan keeper in awe, shows he has the elements. “It is always a nice feeling to see them ducking and diving,” said Stone “I am trying to figure out when to go all guns blazing and when to hold back a little bit. I guess there is a little bit more to come. I just run in and see what happens. If more comes then great.”
Make no mistake, Plunkett is going to the World Cup and England need him to, but they can’t afford to rely on just him. The likes of Mark Wood, Jake Ball, Steven Finn and Reece Topley haven’t impressed enough despite possessing pace and this is the kind of path Stone wouldn’t want to tread on.
ODI cricket today is all about taking wickets for the simple fact that most batsmen come in with an aim of scoring at over a strike rate of hundred. While leaking runs is a given, the best way to curb the run-rate is picking wickets and it is here that England have struggled. Plunkett has plugged the hole a bit but they need Stone to back him up. These are quite early days but the young seamer has everything England need in this One Day setup. If he can merely live up to his reputation in the domestic circuit, Stone isn’t going anywhere else.