International cricket is back, and we have a ripper of a series coming up from July 8 as England host the West Indies.
The 2019 Cricket World Cup must be won by England.
They’ve assembled a stellar batting line-up; a workman-like bowling squad, which is likely to be improved with Jofra Archer’s inclusion; and a fielding team capable of containing sides to totals their batsmen can make or bowlers defend. This is by far the best England ODI team to ever contest a World Cup.
They have a coach who has come up with an attack-at-all-costs plan, which has seen them lose only a one-game series to Scotland since the Champions Trophy in 2017.
They are playing at home in front of their adoring fans on dead-flat pitches and grounds that have been described as “postage stamps”. They even have the English press on their side, and if some of their stories are to be believed, there’s no point the other nine nations bothering to turn up and play – England has this Cup in their grasp already.
But what happens if England doesn’t win?
England are completely banking on one way of winning – having enough hitting power to score enough runs so the opposition can’t equal them. But what if their batting order fails?
There’s no plan B with this team, only plan A. It’s a highly effective method of playing, as England have proven, but it’s not foolproof.
The side’s had a couple of spectacular failures in recent times, most notably its 113 all out in the West Indies and its 9-132 in Sri Lanka. This shows the all-or-nothing approach to batting is far from infallible.
There’s huge pressure on the English batsmen to perform because they know they’ve banked on great batting at the expense of average bowling.
The just completed series against Pakistan highlighted this point perfectly. Chris Woakes’s five-for in the last game on a pitch that offered some help was the only noteworthy bowling performance. The rest of the attack comfortably went for more than six an over through the series, yet their dominant batting got the team to a four-nil series win, effectively covering up a glaring issue: an extremely average attack.
Ronan O’Connell mentioned in a recent article that the ICC had control over the pitch preparation for the World Cup, not England or the MCC. England’s success has come on flat pitches where their batsmen back their eye and simply hit through the line of the ball knowing there’ll be little or no sideways movement.
What happens if there is some movement thanks to the ICC? The other top sides in the World Cup all have bowlers totally capable of exploiting this and ready to take maximum benefit from any sideways movement on offer.
The first game will be critical to England’s chances in this tournament, far more so than for South Africa. A win to the English will keep the fans and especially the media happy. A loss, especially if it’s a bad loss, and the English press won’t hold back, fans will lose faith and English team’s confidence will be dented.
England will make the finals unless weather or some serious bad luck intervenes. Once there, the pressure on this team to win will be far greater than perhaps any other host nation since the tournament began. They will never again have so many factors in their favour, so they have no choice but to win.
Making the final and losing won’t cut it. They must win because they have no plan B.