Cricket, a witticism in common currency goes, is an Indian game accidentally invented by the British. And nowhere is the irony more apparent than in this: The country that invented the one-day game is yet to win a World Cup trophy – in fact, the last time they managed to even reach a final was way back in 1992. They hit a nadir in 2015 when they lost to Bangladesh and failed to make the knock out stage.
That shocker against Bangladesh proved a blessing in disguise, however, as it spurred England to rethink the way it plays the limited format. And so well did they think through, then execute, their revised strategies that today, it is England that is setting the standard for how white-ball cricket should be played. And as a result, for the first time in its history England enters the World Cup as overwhelming favorites. The graph below tells the story:
This shift in England’s fortunes was triggered by an overhaul of first, strategy and second, personnel. Only five of their 2015 squad will be in action this year -- Morgan, Root, Buttler, Woakes and Ali.
Younger players like Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes have been given the license to play bold and fearless – a marked contrast with the stodgy way England has played down the years. And the results are obvious: Between 2011 and 2015, England had a mere five totals in excess of 300. However, between the last Cup and this one, the side has an astonishing 38 scores of 300-plus, the only side to have more than
30 such scores since the last Cup. England has in the same period twice broken the record for the highest ODI total twice, scoring 444 against Pakistan in 2016 and then 481 against Australia in 2018.
The openers have played a massive role in England’s batting resurgence. Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have, alongside Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, forged the most intimidating opening partnership in the contemporary game.
Where England’s batting tops India’s is its ability to continue the frenetic pace of scoring throughout the batting order. Since 2015, England is the only side with an average run rate in excess of six while no other side has managed to cross 5.5 runs per over.
Buttler and Bairstow average over 50 to complement a strike-rate in excess of 100, which is a devastating combination. Jos Buttler has the highest strike-rate among all batsmen who have scored more than 1,000 ODI runs since the last World Cup.
Joe Root’s numbers might look average in comparison, but he has a role to play as the crisis man. The key is in the fact that the right-hander averages 109 against wrist spinners – the most impactful type of bowler in the short format -- since 2015. He showed a glimpse of his usefulness when he scored consecutive hundreds against India in the ODI series last year, negating the threat of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. If the pitches in England become slower as the tournament progresses, Root will become an indispensable asset in the line-up.
A huge plus for England is that its lower order averages 23.7 runs per wicket with the bat, second only to Afghanistan. Every single one of their squad of 15 has at least one first class fifty to his name – and this depth in batting is crucial, since it frees up the top and middle order to go hell for leather right through an innings.
The chink in England’s armour is the bowling; the fast bowlers in particular have been lack-lustre since 2018. Therein lies the irony – the flat tracks that have helped their batsmen bludgeon the opposition have at the same time spiked the guns of their bowlers.
Mark Wood, and the late call up of Jofra Archer, will put some teeth in the pace battery; and where England will feel happy is in the spin department, led by Adil Rashid who is back after six years out in the cold. It was one of those out-of-the-box calls the English selectors made in the aftermath of their 2015 World Cup debacle, and the leg-spinner has responded brilliantly. He is the only bowler in world cricket to pick 100 wickets in the middle phase of the game since the last World Cup.
England’s first eleven is a no-brainer. James Vince and Liam Dawson will warm the bench unless there are injury concerns. Archer and Rashid are the X-factors in an otherwise inconsistent bowling line-up. With nine spots taken, the only real competition will be among the pacers as to who fills the last two places.
Woakes’ potential to make the new ball talk can earn him a place in the side. Tom Curran’s knack of picking wickets in the death overs might just give him a nod, though against specific opposition England might want the extra pace of Mark Wood.
Probable XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Tom Curran, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer
England bat all the way to number 11 and, given that, it is the bowling unit that will dictate how far the hosts progress. The nature of wickets will also play a role – if they are flat, as has been the case in recent years, the England batting will destroy the opposition (Note that the last five times the bowlers conceded over 340 runs, the England batsmen managed to pull off a win every single time).
If England is to live up to the tag of favorites, though, two things have to happen: The team under Eoin Morgan will have to shake, from off their backs, the burden of their own sorry history. And the other bowlers will have to show up in support of Archer and Rashid.