Can England break the duck?

Can England break the duck?

Jos Buttler

For long, limited-overs cricket had been a poor cousin to the traditional Test format for Englishmen -- be it the players, those who ran the game or the average fan. Something, however, changed following a humiliating first-round exit in the 2015 World Cup in Australia.

Four years after that humbling experience, England start as one of the firm favourites to win their maiden quadrennial event at home in the competition’s 44-year history. It’s a remarkable transformation for a team that looked down upon limited-overs cricket as inferior to the longer version. 

Captain Eoin Morgan, himself one of the premier batsmen, has an array of match-winners in a star-studded batting line-up that also features Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes.

England are hoping Barbados-born fast bowler Jofra Archer, who only qualified in March, will be the X-factor in a varied attack that also includes the experience of seamer Chris Woakes and leg-spinner Adil Rashid.

The inclusion of the immensely-talented Archer has caused some heartburn with left-arm pacer David Willey, who has been part of England’s ODI resurgence, overlooked for the home tournament. But it shouldn’t be more than a minor aberration for the hosts.  

Since 2015, the results have been spectacular for England, with Morgan’s men rising to the top of the one-day international rankings.

They have twice set a new record for the highest total in an ODI innings -- 444 for three against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2016 and 481/6 against reigning world champions Australia at the same venue last year.

Change in approach

The change in approach was evident in their first ODI after the 2015 tournament, against New Zealand in Birmingham. England made 408 for nine in a match they eventually won by 210 runs.

Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, who average more than 64 as a first-wicket pair, with 1,676 runs and seven century partnerships in 26 innings together at the top of the order in this format, have set the tone.

A middle-order featuring such dynamic hitters as Buttler and Stokes, both of whom have shown they can also rebuild an innings after a collapse, often boosts England’s totals to impregnable levels.

But there is more to England, who made the last of their three losing appearances in a World Cup final back in 1992, than bully batting.

Both Woakes and Rashid have taken wickets that have proved to be the difference in high-scoring games, while Tom Curran has also made valuable all-round contributions.

The addition of 90 mph (145 kmh) Archer has added a new dimension to England’s attack, although they may regret leaving out left-armer David Willey.

England are unlikely to encounter the kind of slow surface that helped prove their undoing when they lost to Pakistan in the semifinals of the 2017 Champions Trophy in Cardiff.

But that defeat did raise doubts over their ability to cope with the pressure of a knockout situation.

England’s record at recent World Cups has been dismal and they will be desperate to make amends in front of packed home crowds.