In November 2009, young Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry had tweeted: “Promise to all the Warrior fans...we will figure this thing out...if it’s the last thing we do we will figure it out.”
It was Curry’s first season as a professional NBA player. While they finished 13th in a 15-team Western Conference that season, he lived up to his word a few years later, guiding the Warriors to three championships in four years between 2015 and 2018.
In March 2015, just three months before Curry won his first NBA ring, some 8000 miles away from Oakland, England’s cricket team had succumbed to a humiliating first-round exit during the 2015 World Cup. It wasn’t just a defeat, it was a result of the country’s failure to adapt to the ever-evolving ODI game. They simply needed to figure this thing out. For England, this thing was ODI cricket – which, ironically, they had invented and pioneered.
It took four years, but on 14 July 2019, not only had they figured out the format but also mastered it. Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day; neither was England’s ODI success. In a way, the fact that they defeated (tied) New Zealand in the World Cup final was significant as it was against the same opposition that they began figuring this thing out four years ago.
Despite the early World Cup exit, England’s top management had kept faith in captain Eoin Morgan and entrusted him with building a new-look team. A team that had to be aggressive, play with intent, and had the license to thrill. With the ODI against Ireland getting rained out, their first opportunity to show the world what had changed came against New Zealand at Edgbaston, Birmingham on 9 June 2015.
The Black Caps were coming off a World Cup where, under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum, they played thrill-a-minute cricket to reach the final for the first time. England were attempting to replicate the same brand of cricket. And they did it in some style!
Jason Roy opened for England. It was his first innings in ODI cricket. This is significant, as Roy’s attacking style would be the centrepiece, and the prime example of how England would play their cricket over the next four years. And it was visible right from ball one, though not in a good way on this occasion. It was the first delivery of the match, and Roy mistimed a drive straight to Martin Guptill at backward point. (Four years later, it would be Roy running out Guptill to win the World Cup for England!)
Despite the early loss of Roy, England went on to score 408/9 – their highest ODI total at the time. Joe Root and Jos Buttler notched up swashbuckling centuries. It was the first time they put up a 400+ total. Since then, they’ve crossed the 400-run mark thrice, and possess the two highest team totals (481/6, 444/3) in ODI history.
This game plan enabled England to become the best team in the format. Between the World Cups of 2015 and 2019, they had a better win-loss ratio (2.5) than every other team. While there were hiccups on the way, like the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final loss to Pakistan, they entered the 2019 World Cup on home soil as firm favourites.
At the tournament, it looked like things might fall apart spectacularly. After losses against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia, the hosts had just eight points from seven games. They had two games to set things right. And those encounters weren’t going to be easy, as they were up against an unbeaten side in India and a New Zealand team that was sitting pretty in the top four.
Roy missed the losses against Sri Lanka and Australia due to a torn hamstring, and was back for the India match. Liam Plunkett was also brought back into the team in place of Moeen Ali. These two changes proved to be vital. Roy and Jonny Bairstow would put on three successive century-stands for the opening wicket to propel England to the final.
On the other hand, Plunkett has been the most understated member of this England ODI revolution. His contribution with the ball in the middle overs has been a big factor in their dominance. Since the 2015 World Cup, no pacer has more taken more wickets (57) than him between overs 11-40. But the most striking fact came at this tournament: England were undefeated in all seven matches he played in and lost three of four matches he didn’t.
Plunkett made a decisive contribution in the final against New Zealand. It was, once again, in the overs between 11-40. He picked up three wickets, including the crucial ones of Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls who were taking the game away from England.
Jos Buttler is another player who has been seminal in England’s progress as an ODI team. In that Edgbaston ODI against New Zealand in 2015, Buttler made a century from just 66 balls. It was a defining moment, an early indication of how England were going to play their cricket over the next four years.
Buttler came into the final of World Cup 2019 in poor form, averaging just 13.6 from his previous five innings. When he came into bat with the score reading 86/4, it was a tricky situation. But on a pitch where batsmen struggled to get any flow going, Buttler looked at ease, scoring 59 from 60 deliveries. It was his 110-run partnership with Ben Stokes that brought England right back in the game.
Stokes has had an interesting four years. In 2016, he bowled the catastrophic last over against Carlos Brathwaite that saw England lose to the West Indies in the World T20 final. The Windies needed 19 off the final over and Brathwaite smashed Stokes for four successive sixes. A year later, a street brawl threatened to derail Stokes’ career with jail time a possibility. He was acquitted in 2018 and a year later, went on to win the Player of the Match in the World Cup final. As a team mate once asked Ian Botham, the template for talented, tempestuous British all-rounders, “Who writes your scripts, mate?”
While Plunkett, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid all made crucial contributions to England’s success at the World Cup, their standout bowler was definitely Jofra Archer. The Barbados-born pacer was drafted into the team only after the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) changed its eligibility rules from a seven-year residency period to three years.
Archer took 20 wickets in 11 matches at the World Cup, but his most pivotal contribution came when he defended a 16-run target in the super over during the final. A lot of bowlers might have lost their nerve after conceding nine runs off the first two deliveries, but Archer kept his to defend the remaining seven from four and usher England to a historic World Cup triumph.
People will always claim ‘luck’ was a factor in England’s victory in the final. The overthrow six that went off Ben Stokes’ bat was fortunate, and the boundary rule that broke the tie is indeed ridiculous. But on the whole, let’s face it: Eoin Morgan’s side were the best ODI team over the last four years, and are deserving world champions.
Eventually, they figured this thing out!