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Hosts under pressure to deliver in window of dominance

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Expert
17th April, 2019
25

England’s white-ball revolution under Trevor Bayliss has been a stunning philosophical shift in tactics. Underpinned by relentless aggression at the crease, the World Cup hosts have blown away every side at one stage or another since their dismal group-stage knockout at the 2015 World Cup.

Since that infamous loss to Bangladesh in Adelaide, Eoin Morgan’s side has won 14 of their last 18 ODI series.

They’ve defeated Australia 13 times in their last 16 encounters and posted 350-plus on 14 occasions, five more than the next best international side.

For some time they’ve been the best side in the world, successfully adopting a fearless approach to skill execution that has reaped rewards.

But despite their undeniable dominance, England are still yet to win a major ODI trophy. While they’ve shifted the goalposts on what is considered a big total – often embarrassing pundits’ views on a ‘par’ score – they have deservedly claimed the world’s No. 1 ranking and entertained the world with their clean striking.

In the end their trophy cabinet continues to gather dust. England need to win something in this golden era.

Their window of dominance needs a tangible reward.

In May 2015 England appointed former opener Andrew Strauss as its new director of cricket, a move that would prove monumental in their ensuing short-form success.

Andrew Strauss

(AP Photo/Tim Hales)

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He immediately cited the need to focus on ODI and T20 cricket.

“We’re a long way off the pace,” he said at the time. “Unless we focus on it, we will sleepwalk our way into the next (World Cup).”

He then oversaw the appointment of Bayliss, a move that has paid dividends in the short formats, all while Test progress has stagnated.

The pair set about creating a core group of specialists to separate the white-ball sides from the Test team. Morgan, Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett and (until recently) Adil Rashid have all been at the forefront of this reform.

Strauss then introduced white-ball only contracts and encouraged players to ply their trade in overseas T20 leagues where, as foreign players, they faced greater scrutiny.

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And while the team has delivered under pressure on several occasions in the past four years, they also failed at arguably their two biggest moments.

In 2017 they looked on-track for Champions Trophy glory on home soil but fell to eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals on a dry Cardiff track. Morgan lamented that the pitch offered ‘no home advantage’.

Before that, at the 2016 T20 World Cup final, Carlos Brathwaite chased 19 off the final over to snatch victory for the Windies, leaving a gutted England in their wake.

Whether the hosts can finally deliver on the biggest stage – and at home, no less – is the question on everyone’s lips. Last summer they defeated their two biggest rivals for the upcoming World Cup, Australia and India, winning 5-0 and 2-1 respectively.

And while the Aussies’ fortunes have changed, as we well know, England are still very much in the driver’s seat. As such, the intense scrutiny on the favourites is apparent – and don’t they know it.

In an interview last week, Kevin Pietersen shone light on the immense expectations: “There’s a huge amount at stake,” he said on SEN.

“And I just feel sorry for the players. I saw an interview last week where some of the journalists started saying ‘this could be as good as 2005 if England win’. I see them building this team up to absolutely smash them if they lose … I hope they do well. But by crikey, if they don’t, it’s going to be a bloodbath.”

The hosts released their preliminary 15-man World Cup squad overnight, with few surprises. In Bairstow, Roy, Root, Morgan, Stokes and Buttler, England has the most fearsome top-six in the tournament.

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Combined with the all-round skill of Moeen Ali, the spin of Rashid and the pace of Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and maybe even Joffra Archer (selection pending), they combine for a fearsome line-up.

The question remains, however, amid the considerable expectation of success: can they deliver their first international trophy on home soil?

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