Even before the World Cup started, this was England's best-ever chance to win a World Cup. With one game to go, that is even truer.
One more match, one more win, and England will have their first-ever World Cup. It has been quite the journey since the last World Cup.
When England were demolished and demoralised at the 2015 Cricket World Cup the national team was in a terrible state. A crushing 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia during the 2013/14 winter had seen an all-out civil war. Kevin Pietersen was removed from the team and a year of tricky results followed.
That Ashes series had been moved earlier to give England some breathing for the World Cup and had put added pressure on the players having to playback to back Ashes. A team which had been running at high revs for so long finally blew a gasket.
In the battle between Pietersen and the England management, there was one player that the 'powers that be' always backed – Alastair Cook. He was captain of both the Test and the ODI teams and had actually had some success. He led England to the final of the 2013 Champions Trophy, a game that ended up being a rain-curtailed T20 that England lost, narrowly.
Having backed Cook so furiously as the "KP Saga" unfolded, he was giving a lot of breathing space but the selectors as the ODI team struggled throughout the summer of 2014. The same was not true from outside the England camp. Losses to Sri Lanka and India were picked over were by fans and the media like vultures with a rotting carcass. Everyone seemed to be saying the risk-averse approach that England had used so effectively during that 2013 Champions Trophy was now completely outdated. England needed to move on from Cook who should concentrate on Tests.
The England selectors refused to budge. Cook was backed for the ODI tour to Sri Lanka ahead of the World Cup. It was a horrible series for England, they lost 5-2, and it was a dreadful series for Cook. He made 119 runs in six innings at an average of 19. His strike rate of just 67 was probably the starkest reminder of where his game was in ODIs.
So, England, having moved the Ashes to give themselves a chance at the 2015 World Cup, having planned around Cook as the anchor to their successes, fired him as ODI captain. His last ODI was the final match of that series. Eoin Morgan was giving the job of leading England.
The problem for Morgan and his England team was that this was Cook's squad and they were still using the old tactics. The 2015 World Cup was the greatest hits of England failures. They had the wrong team, the wrong tactics and last-minute changes. It is little wonder that they went out before the knockouts, defeating only Scotland and Afghanistan before they went home. England's most successful batsman was Ian Bell who averaged more than 50 but did so at a strike rate of 77. It was, in no uncertain terms, a shambles.
What England have done in the past is refocus on Test cricket, concentrate on winning the Ashes and stumble their way to another terrible World Cup. Since the 1992 World Cup, where they made the final, it has been this way.
But no. Not this time. Andrew Strauss took over as the man in charge of England's top tier men's teams. He refocused on one-day cricket, made the 2019 home World Cup the big-ticket item and went hard at it. Morgan was given free rein to mould the team in his image. In came the likes of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid. Out went Bell, Gary Ballance and Ravi Bopara. This England team would be about going hard and not looking back. It would be about setting batting records, ripping up the rule book and making white-ball cricket the real focus.
Since that disastrous World Cup four years ago England have made the highest ever ODI score (481/6), the highest successful chase (364/4), their highest opening stand (264 by Hales and Roy), broken the highest individual score by an England player twice and made all 10 of the fastest hundreds in England's history.
The change in focus, the groundbreaking approach. It has all worked. The plan can reach its goal if England beat New Zealand on Sunday. The chance for one of the greatest comeback stories in history, to be the focus of a Netflix documentary full of beautiful camera work and emotional interviews, is there. One more game.
Here is the concern. This England team have been here before in the last four years. They have made the knockout stages of the last two ICC events. They were one over away from winning the World T20 in 2016 before Carlos Brathwaite, and Ian Bishop, did what they did in the final.
In 2017 this same team looked set to win the Champions Trophy before a subpar performance on a tricky pitch saw them lose in the semi-final to eventual winners, Pakistan. This feels different though. This feels like the comeback, the redemption story to end all England redemption stories, is going to happen.
Even before this tournament, this was England's best-ever chance to win a World Cup. With one game to go, that is even truer. 100 more overs of cricket and England can bathe in all the kudos for planning a World Cup victory from four years out and pulling it off.
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