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India, not England, should be World Cup favourites

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Expert
3rd March, 2019
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England are raging favourites to win the World Cup in four months from now yet it is India who are the much better balanced ODI side.

England’s weak bowling attack was exposed in their 2-2 ODI series draw against a West Indian side that has not won an ODI series for almost five years.

The West Indies smashed totals of 389 and 360 in that series before finishing off yesterday by rolling England for 113 and then incredibly chasing that down in just 12.1 overs. This all underscored the frailty of the England attack.

India, meanwhile, have a gun batting line-up as well as the world’s top ODI bowling unit, boasting No. 1 ODI quick Jasprit Bumrah and easily the best spin combination going in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who combined have taken 150 wickets at 22 in ODIs.

Look back at the Australian teams that won four of the last five World Cups and you’ll see one thing in common: the ability to dominate games with either bat or ball. India have that ability, England do not.

What England do have is perhaps the most consistently destructive batting line-up ever assembled in ODIs. Since the last World Cup, England have been by far the highest-scoring team in ODIs, going at 6.25 runs per over.

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That average run rate places them well ahead of India (5.70), South Africa (5.70), Australia (5.69), New Zealand (5.68), Pakistan (5.48), Sri Lanka (5.34), Bangladesh (5.18) and the West Indies (5.13).

England (53 wins, 23 losses) also have the equal-best win-loss record in that time alongside India (55 wins, 24 losses). The English side have earned this commanding record due to adopting a vastly different approach to batting.

They were an awful ODI side before that period in a large part because of their outdated and overly defensive approach to batting.

Then, after the 2015 World Cup, they picked a bunch of new batsmen and gave them the licence to attack. Since then England have been setting and chasing massive totals in routine fashion thanks to both the quality and the length of their batting line-up.

The England batting unit is scary. That is a unanimous opinion. They will continue to be intimidating in the World Cup.

The doubt that lingers is how England will cope if their batting unit has an off day, vecause their bowling attack does not have the proven ability to win games.

England’s attack would rank fifth in the world in ODIs behind India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They do not boast a single superstar ODI bowler.

Sam Curran

Sam Curran. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

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The man English pundits often refer to as England’s best ODI bowler, Chris Woakes, has a career ODI bowling average of 32, and that average rises to 37 in the UK, where the World Cup will be played.

It is leg spinner Adil Rashid who I think is in fact England’s best ODI bowler. Yet Rashid still has a career ODI average of 30 and is not equal to either of India’s wrist spinners.

Beyond that England have solid seamers Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran, who average 31 and 32 in ODIs respectively. None of Woakes, Plunkett or Curran is close to the quality of proven ODI matchwinning quicks like Bumrah, Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult or Kagiso Rabada.

From there the numbers get really grim for England, with quick Mark Wood averaging 45 in ODIs, spinner Moeen Ali averaging 47 and all-rounder Ben Stokes averaging 41.

Recognising they do not have any matchwinners with the ball but a ton of them with the blade, England’s approach has been to try to limit the damage of the opposition batting line-up rather than focusing on bowling them out.

This works just fine when their incredible batting line-up runs amok, as it often does. But their batting unit is not infallible, and when they have an off day England do not have the bowlers to turn things around.

The best example of this was the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, a tournament England were massive favourites to win.

England batted first, were bowled out for 211 and their limited bowling attack then got destroyed by Pakistan, who cruised to 2-215 from 37.1 overs.

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While England’s batting line-up has fired many times in random bilateral series, they failed the only time the pressure was really on in a knockout tournament match.

It remains to be seen whether their helter-skelter batting style will hold up under the heavy scrutiny of being hot favourites in a World Cup semi-final and final.

Meanwhile, India have a wonderfully well-balanced team, so much so that I find it very hard to say whether they are a better batting or bowling team in ODIs.

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This is just like the Australian ODI teams that won four of the last five World Cups – on any given day they were likely to either bat an opponent out of the match or blow them away with the ball.

In the last World Cup Australia produced fantastic batting and bowling efforts in all three of their knockout matches.

They dismissed Pakistan for 213 in the quarter-final, India for 233 in the semi-final and then New Zealand for 183 in the final.

In that World Cup it was the four best bowling attacks which made the semis – Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand.

India and South Africa currently have the two best ODI bowling attacks. Australia at full strength are probably third, although their frailty with the bat leaves them long odds to defend their World Cup trophy.

India have three bonafide star ODI bowlers in Bumrah (80 wickets at 21), Kuldeep (79 wickets at 21), and Chahal (71 wickets at 24). By comparison, Adil Rashid (128 wickets at 30) has the best ODI record for England.

Bumrah and Kuldeep are arguably the two biggest ODI matchwinners with the ball in the world. Even if India stumble with the bat in the World Cup, they will remain in the contest due to the wizardry of that pair, not to mention the danger posed by Chahal.

India's MS Dhoni bats.

MS Dhoni. (AP Photo/David Rowland)

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And with the bat India are commanding. Quite incredibly, their entire top six has a career average of 45 or better in ODIs – Virat Kohli (59), MS Dhoni (51), Ambati Rayudu (49), Rohit Sharma (48), Kedhar Jadhav (47) and Shikhar Dhawan (45).

India’s batting line-up is not as dynamic as England’s, but when it comes to picking the team that will triumph under pressure in a World Cup I will always favour the side that can win games either with bat or ball.

That’s why India, not England, are my favourites to win the 2019 World Cup.