England Cricket World Cup guide: gameplan, key player and prediction

Ali Martin


It has been a transformation akin to one of those TV architecture shows, where some utter carbuncle of a 1950s bungalow is dramatically turned into a modern family home that suddenly sits as the envy of the entire street.

Related: Bangladesh World Cup guide: gameplan, key player and prediction

England, if you have remained behind the sofa ever since their pitiful World Cup exit in 2015, go into the tournament on home soil (whisper it) as favourites, having spent the past four years under Eoin Morgan’s flint-eyed leadership soaring to the top of the rankings in a blaze of fours and sixes.

No team has clubbed the white Kookaburra ball past or over the boundary rope more times than Morgan’s hell-raisers during this period, nor can anyone match their run-rate of 6.29. In 88 ODIs since March 2015 they have put 300-plus runs on the board 38 times – 16 more than the next best, India – and claimed 15 wins and one draw from 19 bilateral series along the way.

Morgan is the key, having held on to his job as captain after the 2015 catastrophe and - along with the head coach, Trevor Bayliss – persuaded a talented group of ball-strikers there truly are no limits. He has also kept his bowlers calm during the clutch moments, scarcely offering a flicker of emotion even when they find themselves on the receiving end of some humpty.

England


ICC world ranking 1 (as of 6 May)
Captain Eoin Morgan, left
Coach Trevor Bayliss
World Cup best Runners-up 1979, 1987, 1992


Fixtures (all matches start at 10.30am BST)
30 May v South Africa, The Oval
3 June v Pakistan, Trent Bridge
8 June v Bangladesh, Cardiff Wales Stadium
14 June v West Indies, Hampshire Bowl
18 June v Afghanistan, Old Trafford
21 June v Sri Lanka, Headingley
25 June v Australia, Lord’s
30 June v India, Edgbaston
3 July v New Zealand, The Riverside 









It has not been all plain sailing. In 2016, Morgan – and Alex Hales - withdrew from a tour to Bangladesh for security reasons, prompting suggestions from at least two former captains that he would lose the dressing room as a result. In fact, the decision seemed to send his stock the other way.

When Hales and Ben Stokes found themselves involved in a late night street fight in Bristol the following year, the team again held firm when other dressing rooms might have split, winning away series against Australia and New Zealand – the two sides who made the last World Cup final - and thus claiming top spot.

There has been one more speed bump in recent times, when it emerged last month that Hales had failed a second recreational drugs test. Morgan did not blink, consulting his senior players before informing the selectors he no longer wanted the reserve batsman around the squad.

England have also welcomed Jofra Archer into the group of late, a Barbados-born but British-passport-holding fast bowler deemed so special that they cut their qualification period from seven years of residency down to three last December just to get him in for the main event.

While it brought the country in line with the rest of the world, the move also demonstrated the England and Wales Cricket Board’s craving for silverware this summer. Having seen the women’s team lift the World Cup in 2017, the governing body is hoping similar success for the men can energise the wider population in time for their new (and currently unpopular) 100-ball competition in 2020.

No pressure then ...

england batting statistics england bowling statistics

What’s their gameplan?

England like to fly out of the traps via Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow (now their most prolific ODI opening partnership) maintain pressure through the middle overs while batting around the rock-solid Joe Root and then, provided sufficient wickets remain (or simply if Jos Buttler is still at the crease), flay the ball to all parts in the final 10 overs. Morgan prefers to chase, however, having won the toss 38 times and stuck the opposition in on 25 occasions. On flat pitches they are pretty much uncontainable but blow-outs can occur on surfaces with bounce or lateral movement. With the ball they are more industrious than irresistible, having made peace with the fact that while runs will be shipped, wickets stem the flow and their own batsmen are capable of outscoring the opposition more often than not.

Related: England’s Cricket World Cup squad is reassuring despite late changes | Andy Bull

Who’s their key player?

While Buttler’s incendiary batsmanship will make him the obvious answer for many, it is perhaps worth considering which player would be hardest to replace. For all the dynamism of the England line-up with willow in hand, Adil Rashid gets the nod here. The scores his colleagues are able to amass clearly help, but the Yorkshireman’s ability to turn the ball both ways via a devilish googly – combined with the rate weighing heavily on opposition batsmen during the middle overs – means he has become Morgan’s most dependable source of wickets. Rashid is carrying a slight shoulder niggle and with no other wrist-spinner deployed by England in the past four years, bar a handful of overs of Joe Denly, a full-blown injury would frankly be a nightmare.

What’s their realistic aim and why?

Anything other than making the final would be a hugely disappointing return on four years of heavy investment in the one-day side. Indeed, given the future of 50-over cricket in England, set to be played domestically minus the 100 best white-ball cricketers from 2020 onwards, it really feels like now or never as regards securing a first global men’s trophy in the format. With fresh pitches slated for the knockout stages - and the 10-team group leading into them surely un-muck-up-able, even by English standards – we’re predicting Morgan’s men will indeed be at Lord’s on 14 July and, if a few things go their way on the day, who knows?

Ali Martin is the Guardian’s cricket news reporter