This is it for England. They have their chance for World Cup glory. The event has been around for 44 years, and 2019 will be its 12th edition. England have made the final thrice — 1979 against the West Indies, 1987 against Australia and 1992 against Pakistan. They lost all three games, meaning that cricket’s biggest competition is still missing from their trophy cabinet. This time it should be different.
In 2019, the World Cup is in England (and Wales) for the first time in 20 years. England are ranked as the number one team in the format and have been for the majority of the four years between the last World Cup and the one that starts on 30 May. They have a settled team who are at the absolute cutting edge of tactics in the sport. The tournament’s 10-team format is absolutely perfect for them, with a few slip-ups in the group games unlikely to have a big impact on them making the knockout stages. Then, it is two games to World Cup triumph with this team supremely confident that they can beat any of the other nine sides on their day.
Despite all these many advantages, there won’t be many England fans who truly believe that this team will run away with this tournament the same way Australia did in 2007. There is just too much history of failure for England in World Cups since their last appearance in a final in 1992. The question seems to be how England will mess it up rather than how they will cruise to a World Cup win. After all, England got to the latter stages of the last two ICC Champions Trophies which have been held in England, looking well placed to win the tournaments, only to collapse when they needed to stand tall.
In 1996, they went into a tournament in Asia having not played a game in those conditions for three years, with lots of the members of the squad having never played one-day cricket in that part of the world. Even more telling was that England didn’t play one-day cricket with a white ball in England until after this tournament. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they crashed out of the tournament in the quarter-finals when Sanath Jayasuriya’s 82 from 44 balls saw their total of 235/8 chased down with almost 10 overs to spare.
Three years later, the tournament was in England and they were out of the competition before the official World Cup song was released. They took the captaincy away from the talismanic Adam Hollioake and dropped Nick Knight, their best one-day batsman. They were knocked out in the group stage when they failed to chase 233 to win against India.
From 2003 to 2011, England’s World Cup history was all about bad tactics, late team changes and poor execution. All of this culminated in the 'Greatest Hits' of England World Cup failure that was the 2015 tournament. They dropped their captain just before the tournament started, left a load of brilliant players to whom they had never even given debuts out of the squad and went out in the group stages of a tournament which was set up to prevent that from happening. They only teams they beat were the two Associate nations they played.
All of that ineptitude in 2015 was even more stark considering what followed as this England team have ripped up the batting rule book and started again. They have made nine of their top 10 fastest ODI hundreds since the previous World Cup. Their seven highest successful run chases have happened since 2015. They have made the highest ever ODI score (481/6), their highest opening stand (256), their highest individual innings (180 by Jason Roy) and their highest successful chase (364/4). All of these things happened with players that England could have picked for the 2015 World Cup and decided not to.
So that leads us to this tournament where England really do have the best possible chance of winning one of these, even more so than the Champions Trophy two years ago when they looked unstoppable. They have got even better at ODI cricket since then. There is something of the Newcastle United football team who played under Kevin Keegan in the mid-1990s. “It doesn’t matter how many you score; we will score one more” seems to be the mantra. You can just tell they are itching to be the first team to score 500. No team has revolutionised batting the way this England team has since than Sri Lankan team at the 1996 World Cup. They are just unbelievably good.
Their bowling, while certainly the weaker of the two parts of their game, is not toothless. Adil Rashid is the leading wicket taker in ODIs since the last World Cup. Chris Woakes can run riot with the new ball. Jofra Archer’s x-factor adds another dimension to things. They are the complete package.
That said, England can make a mess of things. The semi-final of the Champions Trophy in 2017 saw them bowled out for 211 when the batting imploded. As recently as their series against the West Indies in March, they fluffed their lines with the bat. In the match in St Lucia, they stumbled to 113 all-out with Oshane Thomas claiming 5/21.
The worry for England is one of those bad days with the bat happens in the semi-final or final of this event. That is the only way you can see England not winning this thing. But this level of confidence does not sit right with an England fan who has watched this team at World Cups over the last 30 years or so.
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