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Plunkett has worked out his ideal run-up speed and England are reaping the World Cup rewards

When Liam Plunkett is at his consistent best, you can set your watch by him. To a player who has tasted only victory in this World Cup, the secret is in the timing.

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At the age of 34, and performing in what is likely to be his last global event, Plunkett has come to realise the key to him operating at the top of his game is run-up speed. If he maintains an average of 15.8mph, everything else falls into place.

If it all seems very precise, it is. In an era when GPS is routinely used to monitor physical workloads and distances covered on the field, the England backroom staff take such recordings off the Whoop strap fitness tracker on the Surrey fast bowler’s wrist to record how long it takes to deliver the ball from pushing off.

The data have revealed that maintaining what he calls ‘three-quarter pace’ across his 17.3metre approach — somewhere between ambling and full tilt — helps return the kind of results that has seen him claim eight wickets in five appearances in this tournament, at an economy rate of 4.89 runs per over, just behind Jofra Archer’s 4.78.

On Thursday, in the second of the competition’s semi-finals, those two will be part of what is expected to be a pace-heavy home attack attempting to muzzle Australia’s batsmen in the manner they achieved against India and New Zealand last week.

From a bowling perspective, England have shown a willingness to adapt to the conditions by turning their backs on the two-spinner axis of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, which has served them so well since 2015.

‘The wickets have not been the 400-run wickets,’ Plunkett said. ‘Coming into the World Cup, people were talking that we might get a few scores of 400, maybe even 500s.

‘The extra quick bowler has sort of worked on the wickets we’ve played on.

‘It’s been quite tough to hit the ball off a length with a bit of uneven bounce, and batsmen have attacked the spinners because it’s been harder to hit seamers.

‘The balance has been right the last couple of games, but we’ll see how this Edgbaston wicket is and see what the team is.’

Plunkett’s recent numbers have proved quite a contrast to the ones he produced in the early weeks of the 2019 season at the Kia Oval for Surrey, when some ugly figures coincided with whispers of a dip in pace.

The problems were that his feet were out of kilter on landing and he was not getting his hand over the top of the ball sufficiently in delivery, although Plunkett believes such technical issues and his approach to the crease are inextricably linked.

For him, a steady run-up is as important as varying the deliveries that have so outfoxed batsmen throughout the middle period of one-day internationals.

So effective has the former Durham and Yorkshire seamer been in nullifying opponents, in fact, that it is mind-boggling he did not make a single appearance during the previous four-year World Cup cycle between 2011 and 2015.

Equally so, that England could contemplate leaving him out now. Seek the common denominator in success this past month and you will find Plunkett, a man with five wins from five.

He was not selected for the group-stage blips against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia, but it is not only his absences in this tournament that have coincided with defeats. The longer-term statistics are even more astounding.

Since the last World Cup and during the glorious rise of the 50-over team under captain Eoin Morgan, Plunkett has finished on the losing side on just eight of 54 occasions. England have lost 18 of the 37 matches he has missed.

Clearly, he is the right man at the right time.

 

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