With a batting line-up deeper than the Mariana Trench, England enter this World Cup as favourites, and deservedly so. How they deal with those expectations will shape their tournament.
Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
England initially named just a preliminary squad, allowing them to make three changes following their warm-up series against Pakistan. Jofra Archer was the big inclusion, coming into the side for David Willey, while off-spinner Liam Dawson replaced Joe Denly.
Alex Hales was part of the original 15-man squad but that changed after it emerged he was handed a 21-day suspension for recreational drug use. James Vince has taken his place in the squad as a back-up batsman.
Cricket, at its simplest, is all about scoring more runs than your opposition, and in this England are unmatched. Their batting order is the strongest in the tournament, capable of chasing down any target. Of the five highest run chases in ODI history, two have been achieved in 2019 by this side.
The bulk of England’s batsmen are capable of going from ball one. Openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow do just that, as do the powerful middle order of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali.
First drop Joe Root is the most conservative player in the line-up, tasked with the crucial role of turning the strike over without much risk, while skipper Eoin Morgan is something of a hybrid, able to hit from the get-go or start slower if the situation requires it.
With the likes of Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Adil Rashid, Tom Curran and Archer all more than capable with the willow, they bat all the way to 11, too.
England’s ultra-aggressive approach is well suited to playing at home, where the small grounds are far more forgiving to the odd mishit that inevitably arises from such tactics. Home ground advantage has had an impact on recent World Cups, with co-hosts winning the past two tournaments.
Given the strength of England’s batting, it follows that their bowling isn’t going to have quite the same class about it.
That’s not to say this is a poor attack, but it does have its flaws. Only two bowlers in the squad have a career economy rate of under 5.5, all-rounder Moeen Ali and the thricely capped Archer.
That could just be a function of playing so much international cricket on England’s smaller grounds – going at 5.5 an over this World Cup is going to be an entirely reasonable return for the hosts given their excellent batting.
Still, Morgan’s men carry less of a new-ball threat than a number of other contenders, although Archer’s eventual selection provides a nice boost on that front. It’s unlikely to be an issue against most sides, however if it comes down to a knockout game against India, whose top order we discussed yesterday, England could be found wanting an out-and-out strike bowler capable of making early inroads.
They also have to deal with the weight of expectation which favouritism brings. This country is famous for underperforming on the big stage world sport (think the 2015 Rugby World Cup, just about any FIFA World Cup bar the last one), and England were miserable in their last two ICC tournaments. They crashed out of the group stage in 2015, and collapsed against Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final.
Buttler personifies England’s approach to one-day cricket. Granted license to attack from the very start of his innings, he’s more than capable of taking games away from the opposition in four or five quick overs.
His numbers on their own make for ominous reading if you’re anything but an England fan. With a career ODI average north of 40, Buttler’s strike rate of 120 is incredible. He’s been even better in the past 12 months, during which he’s averaged 68 and gone at a strike rate of 127.
But those stats alone don’t tell the full story of Buttler’s brilliance. While capable of playing with textbook orthodoxy, the keeper-batsman also plays the ramp shot better than anyone else, can go over third man with the reverse sweep, and uses his wrists to lash yorker-length deliveries through the off-side.
While England are blessed with plenty of hitters, Buttler is the best of the lot. If the hosts lift the trophy at the end of this World Cup, it will be due in no small part to his contributions with the bat.
Anything but a victory in the final will be a disappointment for England. Their bowling might have a couple of flaws, but it’s still a solid attack. The batting unit is more than capable of making up for any shortcomings in the rest of the game, particularly on their small home grounds.
If Eoin Morgan and his side can handle the pressure which comes with being pre-tournament favourites, there’s no reason why they won’t be lifting the World Cup on July 14.