“As far as the World Cup is concerned,” Indian great Sachin Tendulkar said in the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, “it is a process. We don’t want to jump to the 50th floor straight away. We must start on the ground floor.”
This is pertinent for England for two reasons,
- After a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2015 where they were knocked out in the first round, they put together a process that saw a massive change in the way they approached ODI cricket
- Their style, with this process, has been such that they usually race up the floors, rather than pace their climb; it’s brought them great success, but it’s hindered them in this tournament at times
On the back of four fabulous years in the ODI game which saw them rise to the top spot on the ICC rankings, England came into this World Cup as favourites. They were expected to breeze their way into the semi-finals, but faced unexpected turbulence along the way.
Eoin Morgan’s side began the tournament with a convincing victory against South Africa, by 104 runs at The Oval, London. Then came a major setback as they were defeated by Pakistan by 14 runs at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.
Pakistan, who had been thrashed by West Indies in their first match, were expected to be an easy opponent. In fact, just the month prior to the Cup, England had defeated Pakistan 4-0 in an ODI series. But the tables were turned on the global stage.
At the time, it seemed like a minor hiccup as the hosts won their next three games against Bangladesh (by 106 runs), West Indies (by 8 wickets) and Afghanistan (by 150 runs).
They played an attacking brand of cricket that symbolized the ‘New England’ image that they had created over the last four years.
They were up against Sri Lanka next, a match they were expected to win with ease. But Lankan icon Lasith Malinga rolled back the years to produce a sensational spell (4/43) as England, chasing a modest target of 233, fell short by 20 runs.
Another loss followed when they were comprehensively beaten by arch-rivals Australia by 64 runs at Lord’s, London. Doubts crept in, with former England skipper Michael Vaughan remarking: “This is looking like turmoil for England. I’ve been involved in a couple of atrocious World Cups. If they’re not careful, this could turn out to be top of the tree.”
Opener Jonny Bairstow immediately shot back, saying: “People were waiting for us to fail. They are not willing us on to win, in many ways they are waiting for you to get that loss, so they can jump on your throat. It’s a typical English thing to do, in every sport.”
One could have read Bairstow’s outburst as the first signs of cracks in England’s campaign. But the Yorkshireman then guided England into the final four with back-to-back centuries in must-win encounters against India at Edgbaston, Birmingham and New Zealand at the Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street. England won the two matches by 31 and 119 runs respectively.
While Joe Root has scored the most runs (500) and Bairstow has notched up successive centuries, it’s Jason Roy who has been the most vital cog in England’s machinery. Roy’s importance to the team became apparent when he missed the matches against Sri Lanka and Australia with a torn hamstring. The hosts lost both games. His only failure came when he scored 8 against Pakistan, another game England lost.
In five innings, Roy has scored 341 runs at an average of 68.2 and a strike rate of 114. In fact, no England batsman has a higher average in the tournament. This just shows how crucial Roy’s form is to England’s performances.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Jos Buttler’s form will be a bit of a worry. The keeper-batsman, after a century and a fifty against Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively, has managed just 68 runs from five innings at an average of 13.6. He is possibly his team’s biggest match-winner with the bat, and the hope is that he might be saving his best for the knockouts.
On the bowling front, Adil Rashid has been far from his best. Troubled by a shoulder issue, the leg-spinner has taken just 8 wickets at an average of 54.1, a strike rate 55.5 and an economy rate of 5.8. He finds himself last on all three counts for England at the tournament.
Between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, no one took more ODI wickets (129) than Rashid, and the England camp will be hopeful that he can rediscover that form when the semi-finals come calling.
Tendulkar and India’s focus on process took them to the Promised Land in 2011. Will England follow suit to make it three successive triumphs for host nations, and a first ever title win for the inventors of the sport? Only time will tell.