England have announced their squad for the 2019 World Cup. Well, their provisional squad. Chances are there will be one big call they make before the tournament gets underway. Like Banquo’s ghost, Barbadian born Jofra Archer is looming over proceedings. As soon as the England & Wales Cricket Board removed their somewhat draconian seven-year residency requirement for players born overseas and brought it into line with the ICC’s four-year rule, Archer’s name was the one on everyone’s lips. That he would now be eligible for England just ahead of a home World Cup only furthered the intense speculation.
England have done the sensible thing. Rather than adding Archer to the World Cup squad, they have picked him for the matches against Pakistan and Ireland in early May. The provisional squad of 15 is in no way binding, they can change any of the those selected up until 22 May. This means England can “have a look” at Archer at international level and then make a call afterward.
If he does get parachuted into this squad at the expense of one of the players who have taken England to the top of the ICC ODI Rankings it would be harsh on the man who misses out. But this is the pinnacle of the sport, the biggest event in the cricketing calendar and a tournament England have a very real chance of winning. Archer is a bowler who can send the ball down at 145 clicks, can score important runs down the order and is unreal in the field. If gets in the squad he would be there on merit.
Despite Archer’s undoubted gifts, his selection would not be without controversy, even from within the England camp. Chris Woakes, one of England’s current fast bowlers, doesn’t think it would be fair, but also seems to understand that is the nature of cricket at the highest level. "If he was to come in and someone was to miss out, it would be extremely unfortunate. It probably wouldn't be fair, morally, but at the same time it's the nature of the international sport," Woakes told the BBC.
Away from Archer and the associated excitement, England’s squad is very much as expected. Eoin Morgan will captain the team having led them from World Cup disasters in 2015 to World Cup favourites heading into this event. Since that awful World Cup in 2015, the England captain has been in fantastic form as a batsman and a leader. There has been the odd lean spell, but his overall returns have been excellent. 2875 runs at an average of 45 and a strike rate of 97 with five hundreds across that period puts him second only to Joe Root in terms of numbers. Where Morgan does lead the way is with 93 sixes since the last World Cup, almost twice as many as the next best England player.
While Morgan will be leading this team as captain and by example in the field, whether England win this World Cup might well come down to the kind of tournament that Joe Root has. He recently passed 5000 ODI runs, and it won’t be long before he becomes England’s leading ODI run-scorer of all time. His average since the 2015 World Cup is a ridiculous 59 and he has made 10 of his 14 ODI hundreds in that period. A good World Cup for Root means England will be posting impressive totals.
While Morgan and Root might be the glue that holds the England batting lineup together the really exciting part is those that bat around them. Like a big shark in a Steven Spielberg movie, the current England top order just keeps coming. Two of Johnny Bairstow, Alex Hales and Jason Roy will open the batting and they will look to put the opposition under serious pressure in the opening Powerplay. They have been given the license to express themselves and that has seen England get off to amazing starts and even more impressive finishes. That one of those three hasn’t made an ODI double hundred just yet is actually something of a surprise and something that could well change at this World Cup.
Then there are the finishers. Jos Buttler’s other-worldly career strike rate of 118 means he has played such a huge part in England setting scores close to, or greater than, 400. Moeen Ali has played important innings at the right time. And then there is also Ben Stokes who has now found consistency to go along with his awesome batting power. This England team have made six of the top seven totals in ODI cricket since the last World Cup, scoring more than 400 on four occasions.
While the batting is amazing, and will at times rip opponents apart, it can also be a weakness for this team. The semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy where they failed to adapt to a worn pitch is perhaps the best example of them fluffing their lines, the 113 all out they made against West Indies in St Lucia this winter is the most recent. When things go wrong for them with the bat, they go very wrong indeed.
The bowling could well be improved by the addition of Archer, but it is very much the weaker of the two parts to this England team’s game. They back themselves to score one more run than the opposition rather than look to restrict them. But that isn’t to say they haven’t had some impressive performances with the ball in recent times. Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes have all had good seam bowling returns, but it is their leg-spinner who have been the most important part of their attack.
Adil Rashid was not selected for the 2015 World Cup. He had played just five ODIs in 2009, claiming three wickets, before he was brought back into the team for the summer of 2015 in the wake of the navel gazing after a bruising winter. Since then he has claimed 125 wickets, the most by any bowler in ODI cricket in that period. His wickets in the middle overs have pegged teams back and kept totals gettable. His efforts at this World Cup are as important to England as Joe Root’s. If both he and Root have a good tournament England will win the thing.
As you would expect for a team who have won in this format far more than they have lost, there are very few surprises in this England squad. The only question left to answer is whether they can find a space for Archer. A few good performances against Pakistan and Ireland and they will have to. Other than that, it is business as usual for a team who are really very good at this version of the game.
England squad: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood