It has been one of the more remarkable turnarounds in recent cricket history, but just over two years on from thoroughly stinking out the 2015 World Cup party, England find themselves favourites for the Champions Trophy – a side remodelled in the image of their swashbuckling captain Eoin Morgan and looking for long overdue success in a 50-over tournament.
Since their humiliating early World Cup exit at the hands of Bangladesh, England have been a team transformed, and quite rightly find themselves as the bookies’ favourites ahead of a Champions Trophy on home soil.
At the heart of their revival has been a new-found confidence with the bat, with the side managing a score of over 300 in 21 matches since the World Cup, and 10 times in the last 12 matches where they have batted first – they made 296 in one of the others.
Until a dramatic batting collapse in their dead rubber final match in the series against South Africa, England had enjoyed a highly successful lead up to the Champions Trophy, sweeping the West Indies 3-0 during their recent ODI tour to the Caribbean and then recording a very comfortable 2-0 series win against Ireland at home. Two highly efficient victories over No.1 ranked side South Africa followed, before their capitulation at Lord’s, which shouldn’t disguise the fact that they are very much a team in form.
Unsurprisingly England’s ODI resurgence has not gone unnoticed by their opposition, with Indian captain Virat Kohli admitting that they will make for formidable opponents should the two sides meet at this year’s Champions Trophy.
"I think England are a very, very balanced side," Kohli said. "One of the two best balanced sides in the world at the moment. They bat right down to 9 or 10, they are all explosive players, five or six guys can bat and bowl, and they are gun fielders as well.
"We experienced that in India, they are pretty hard to get past, and that's something that is going to be a challenge for every other team in the Champions Trophy as well. We always related to England as a very strong Test team, but in last two or three years post [the 2015] World Cup, they've really changed the way they play their cricket.”
There is a fairly strong case to be made that this is England’s greatest ODI side yet, their players have made 23 centuries since the 2015 World Cup, four more than they managed in the whole of the 1990s and in fact their likely starting XI have now scored 23.45 percent of all England’s ODI hundreds ever.
In Ben Stokes, England have arguably the best all rounder in world cricket, the Durham man is fresh from a starring role in his first IPL and provided he can stay injury free, looks set to light up the Champions Trophy with bat, ball and quite possibly in the field as well.
It is certainly with the bat where England have the greatest strength in depth, an explosive opening partnership of Alex Hales and Jason Roy well balanced with the more measured yet equally dangerous Joe Root and Eoin Morgan following behind and that’s before Stokes, Jos Buttler or Moeen Ali have faced a ball.
Where previously England have relied far too heavily on one or two individuals to carry their batting, they now are spoilt for choice, with neither Jonny Bairstow or Sam Billings even able to find a place in their regular starting eleven.
However, at home England will also pose a threat with the ball, with Chris Woakes – another part of a their long batting order – one of a few seam bowlers who will have no excuse when it comes to adapting to the conditions and a man likely to cause a few problems for the opposition.
The star man for England with the ball however is surely Mark Wood, who provided he can remain injury-free, will be a real menace to sides in the tournament. His raw, skiddy pace will test the opposition and you only need to look at his recent match-winning performance against South Africa – he went at only 4.8 per over in a game that saw 658 runs scored – to see just why England rate him so highly.
Unsurprisingly as tournament hosts, England get the Champions Trophy up and running with Thursday’s match against Bangladesh, a side they have failed to beat in their last two 50-over tournament encounters, in Chittagong in 2011 and Adelaide in 2015. As unexpected as those two defeats were, should they fail to get past the Tigers for the third tournament match in a row then it really will be a surprise – despite the enormous improvements Bangladesh have made in recent years.
For England then it seems that this is their tournament to lose, with an ODI side seemingly near the best they have ever had and a short competition in home conditions, their biggest danger at the moment appears to be whether they can handle the pressure of expectation – and if they can manage that then it’ll take a very good side to stop them finally getting their hands on some ODI silverware.
Squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
Fixtures: 1 June - vs Bangladesh, The Oval; 6 June - vs New Zealand, Cardiff; 10 June - v Australia, Edgbaston.