Preparation is everything in sport. That’s why England cricket fans can be let off for feeling a little apprehensive at the way in which their side’s preparation for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand has gone to date. After having four years to sort themselves out, most teams at this late stage expect to be in cruise control as they hone in upon this next instalment of cricket’s grandest spectacle. Yet with less than two months until the tournament starts, England are still trying to piece a puzzle together in the dark, desperately throwing whatever they can find into the blender in the hope it will end up tasting half decent.
Their out of form captain has only just been removed. Arguably their most gifted player remains lost in the international wilderness. Their squad is young and inexperienced and their confidence has plummeted after a number of recent series defeats. Nevertheless, there is still hope for England. They still have a chance – and here’s why…
Alastair Cook remains a fine batsman but it had been clear for a long time that he was no longer the right man to lead the one-day side. You have to admire his resilience and determination to turn both his form and the results around and his immense pride in having the role, yet Cook’s time was up. England had won just one of his last nine series in charge. The opener had made just one ODI half-century in his last 22 attempts and had presided over five successive series defeats. Removing your captain on the threshold of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is far from ideal but England needed a change. Cook’s side had become cautious and devoid of confidence. They can be an invigorated collective now under an entirely different leader. Eoin Morgan is a risk taker akin to Australia captain Michael Clarke, preferring to grab the game at its outset. He has hardly been in the greatest form either with the bat yet it is widely acknowledged that his style of captaincy is far better suited to a one-day game that has evolved beyond recognition in recent years. Cook had become a passenger in a format that now waits for no one. Morgan at the helm, with his more attacking and imaginative style, is England’s best hope of winning the World Cup for the first time.
The pressure is off
It is odd to say this of a team who were the runners-up in the 2013 Champions Trophy and the number one ODI team only two years ago, but little is anticipated of England at this World Cup. The squad selected in December will be able to play without enormous pressure on them, which could be the key to a successful tournament. They are not expected to progress far, thus enabling Morgan’s side to take to the field without a vast fear of failure and with an incentive to prove everyone wrong. They have nothing to lose and can be positive, attacking and aggressive without having to be so worried of the consequences. They will believe they have it in them to progress out of Pool A where they have been drawn with Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Scotland. Given the unpredictable nature of tournament cricket, England cannot simply be written off. They could thrive under the title of the underdog.
The next generation is ready
Teams always go through periods of transition and, with many of the old guard that made England such a force in World Cricket again having departed, the new crop are now ready to truly step up to the plate. The 2015 World Cup could be the making of this fresh generation. Joe Root, who was was sublime during the series defeat to Sri Lanka, has fast-tracked himself from a prodigy to one of the most vital components of the side. Moeen Ali has looked special at the top of the order and has alongside him the destructive Alex Hales – making what is surely now one of the most dangerous opening pairings in the ODI format. James Taylor looks ready to consistently deliver in the international arena, Gary Balance and Jos Butler have shown time and again already what talent they have while Chris Woakes has improved remarkably in the last year. It’s not all doom and gloom – the World Cup could be the start of an exciting future for England
The experienced heads
There is no question that this is a very inexperienced England squad, especially in the batting department, where England’s likely top three of Hales, Ali and Taylor have a total of 25 appearances between them. Nonetheless, there is some balance to the side. Stuart Broad and James Anderson’s experience will lead the bowling attack along with the rejuvenated Steven Finn. Ravi Bopara is back in nick and has the x-factor with the bat and the variation with the ball that England badly need. And can you think of a side who wouldn’t want the talents of an Ian Bell in their squad? The big players tend to deliver on the biggest of stages and England still have them. They can surprise a few people in Australia and New Zealand.
There is still time – just
Despite the changes and the lack of form, time is still on England’s side to get things together and take some desperately needed momentum into the tournament. As the old saying goes, it is better late than never. Their pre-tournament tri-series against Australia and India is going to be pivotal – England need to find their form and confidence, adapt to the new conditions and nail-down an established order. A couple of excellent performances can give them a massive boost just at the right time. They can finally get those pieces puzzled together. Momentum is a funny thing in sport – England are lucky they still have the opportunity to get theirs.
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