With a home World Cup swiftly followed by a home Ashes series the summer of 2019 has the potential to rival the greatest in the history of the English game and also to be among its most crushing disappointments.
The home side are the favourites to win both competitions and the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, Tom Harrison, has declared himself “giddy with excitement” about the “once in a generation opportunity” the coming months represent.
Given England were thrashed the last time they competed for the Ashes and humiliated at the most recent World Cup, this is quite a feat of optimism. But it reflects a change in fortunes both for England’s limited-overs side – ranked No 6 by the International Cricket Council in 2015 and No 1 today – and for Australia’s Test team, who have slipped from No 1 in the 2016 rankings to No 3 in 2017 and No 5 in 2018.
The World Cup has been the primary focus ever since England were eliminated in the group stage in 2015, victorious only against Scotland and Afghanistan and playing the most prosaic, pedestrian cricket while around them their notional rivals aimed for the stars. It is a competition in which they have never excelled – having staged it four times they have still never won it, and have been knocked out in the group stages as many times as they have reached the final – but this was a new low.
“It was obvious in 2015, there was a revolution coming,” Ravi Bopara, a member of that squad, says now. “We had a meeting at the end of the World Cup and some of us were quite blunt, saying what needs to change. Some of us haven’t played since saying some of that stuff but nevertheless it’s worked for the better.”
The World Cup has again changed its format, from the 14 teams split into two groups in 2015, from which eight emerged for the quarter-finals, to one 10-team group from which four will qualify. The ICC’s vision stands in contrast to the frenzied expansionism which Fifa believe furthers the cause of football’s World Cup, and means no associate members will be involved.
In 2015 the late New Zealand captain Martin Crowe described the decision to reduce the numbers as “absolutely bonkers”, while Grant Bradburn, Scotland’s coach when they thrillingly beat England in an ODI last June – now Pakistan’s fielding coach – sniffed that “the idea of the governing body is to grow the game and to shrink the World Cup is no way to grow the game”.
It will, however, lead to more matches between the bigger teams, and in purely sporting terms that is considered an improvement by many. “I quite like the format,” Bopara says. “If it’s split into groups there can always be a weaker group and that can be unfair. This is the fairest way to do it.”
It also means every nation will – weather permitting – have faced every other by the time the group stage concludes, which should allow the four strongest sides to emerge from the pack. India are the second favourites with Australia – who have won five of the 11 tournaments and are the reigning champions – and South Africa tipped to challenge.
Among the many changes made by England since 2015 the return of Adil Rashid is one of those to have had the most impact. The spinner played five ODIs in 2009 and was then out of the side for nearly six years before being brought back after the 2015 debacle. He has taken 116 ODI wickets since, 37 more than any other Englishman and fewer only than Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, with more than a third of those coming in 2018.
“England shouldn’t be bothered by the pressure of being favourites, that’s normal for them now,” Bopara says. “They’ve got every advantage playing in their own back yard, they know the conditions and they’re used to playing here. In England there tends to be a bit there for the bowlers – bounce, sideways movement, swing. I think it’s the most challenging place in the world to play cricket. You’ll get some good wickets for the batters, with fast outfields and sometimes small boundaries, but there’s always a pitch that’s going to seam about or is going to take some spin.
“England have got an unbelievable chance as the tournament goes on and the pitches get drier. They’ve got two good spinners and they’ve got a wrist-spinner who can take wickets in the middle of the innings. We know England can put big runs on the board, that’s not a worry. The worry is in the bowling department and a good wrist-spinner makes a big difference.”
With only Australia (three times) and India (once) having won the World Cup this century, there is a strong chance a different name will be engraved on the cup. “Australia aren’t playing very well at the moment,” Bopara says. “We saw them last summer in the ODI series against England and to be blunt they were nowhere. India will be there or thereabouts and South Africa have a fantastic side. It would be nice to see a new name on the trophy.”
The transformation of England’s ODI team from dray horses to thoroughbreds over the past four years has been thrilling and in 2019 Eoin Morgan and his side aim to write the final chapter of their story. The nation may be giddy with excitement but the team will have to be totally immune to it if their script is to get a happy ending.
Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/dec/31/cricket-world-cup-fever-england-day-reckoning
Publish date : 2018-12-31 09:00:59