“Hosts England go into the World Cup as favourites” – just how many times have you heard that sentence, or something very similar, in the past few weeks?
But are England really the favourites? Why are they rated so highly? And what could possibly go wrong?
Number one in the world = World Cup favourites?
If you go purely off the ICC’s one-day rankings, England are a shoo-in. They’re top of the class, just above India but far ahead of the rest.
In fact, they’ve won more than two-thirds of the completed games they have played since the last World Cup.
And, of course, they are hosts, meaning the conditions should suit their style of play and be familiar to their players.
But the World Cup has been in England four times before and they have never gone on to lift the trophy.
Aggression and innovation
England were eliminated from the 2015 World Cup in the group stages, playing a brand of cricket that was deemed old-fashioned and one-dimensional.
Since then, they have packed their batting with aggressive strokemakers and their bowling with skill and variety.
The turnaround has been dramatic and thrilling – no team has scored more runs per over in ODI cricket than England in the past four years.
They also hold the world record for the highest score in 50-over cricket – almost becoming the first team to break the 500 mark in their incredible 481-6 against Australia last summer.
In fact, they are the only team to pass 400 more than once since the last tournament down under.
|Team totals in excess of 400 since 2015 World Cup|
Setting the tone at the top
Since Jonny Bairstow displaced Alex Hales at the top of the England batting order, he and Jason Roy have formed the most fearsome of opening partnerships.
They are the fastest in the world at reaching three figures (they average 75 and 83 balls respectively – 12 fewer than the next best, Shikhar Dhawan’s 95 balls) and collectively, no other opening pair has scored more runs at the top of the order since 2018.
Of the likely opening partnerships at the World Cup, Bairstow and Roy top the list with an average of 58.7, just ahead of Pakistan pair Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq (57.7). The third best are India’s Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who average 45 when opening together.
The most destructive batsman in the world?
Three of the current England team (Jos Buttler, Bairstow and Roy) are in the top 10 for batsmen with the highest strike-rates in one-day history (minimum 1,000 runs).
And only Australia’s Glenn Maxwell stands above Buttler, who averages 119.57 runs per 100 balls faced (Maxwell 121.95).
There is an argument for saying Buttler is better than Maxwell, however, since he has scored more runs in his career and at a much better average (41.54 to 33.33).
Crucially, he has scored eight centuries to Maxwell’s one – the latest his 110 off 55 balls that demolished Pakistan in Southampton earlier this month.
To put Buttler’s strike-rate of 119.57 in perspective, take a look at AB de Villiers, regarded as one of the most innovative and exhilarating batsmen of the past decade. His strike-rate? 101.09.
|England’s fastest ODI centuries have all been scored by players involved in this summer’s World Cup|
Spinning their way to success
Once the batsman have done their work, it’s over to the bowlers.
Much of England’s success with the ball is down to their spin twins: Adil Rashid (leg-spinner) and Moeen Ali (off-spinner).
And, in Rashid, England have the most prolific wicket-taker of the past four years in one-day cricket.
|Most wickets since 2015 World Cup|
|Adil Rashid (England)||129|
|Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)||125|
|Trent Boult (New Zealand)||107|
|Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)||106|
|Imran Tahir (South Africa)||92|
|Kuldeep Yadav (India)||87|
A quick look at the table above underlines what is needed to be successful in today’s batsman-dominated world: top-class spin bowling or pace.
Just 12 months ago, the latter seemed out of reach for England. Where would they find a bowler capable of delivering the ball at speeds in excess of 90mph and with a canny collection of skills to match?
Step forward Jofra Archer.
The immensely talented Archer, born in Barbados to a British father, only became eligible to play for England in March.
Since then, he has played just three ODIs but has shown enough to persuade England to promote him into their 15-man World Cup squad at the expense of David Willey.
Regarded as one of the best white-ball cricketers in the world, Archer might just prove the final piece in England’s jigsaw.
Captain Morgan at the wheel
Pulling all of this together is Eoin Morgan, the Irishman seen as the best leader England have had in this form of the game.
“I rate him as the best captain we’ve had in one-day cricket,” said former captain Michael Vaughan on a recent BBC podcast.
“He’s a guy who reads play, is ahead of the game and the way he deals with personalities, he’s a good man-manager.
“All of the players idolise him. They just feel safe with Morgan as captain.”
Who or what can stop them?
India captain Virat Kohli is a modern-day legend. Since the last World Cup, he is the only player to score more than 4,000 ODI runs – and he’s done so at an average of 78.29.
His much-vaunted record in run-chases is eye-watering too – batting second and in matches India have won (84 in total), he averages 95.24.
England might be able to post the biggest of scores… but Kohli will fancy his chances of chasing them down.
Equally, England came unstuck against Pakistan in the semi-finals of the 2017 Champions Trophy when they came across a worn pitch which blunted the effectiveness of their ball-strikers at the top of the innings.
The ICC, just as in 2017, is in charge of pitch preparation and England could face similar challenges in the final four or the final.
They are better prepared two years on, however, and it might well be that the harsh lesson learned in 2017 will prove valuable this summer.