Despite changes over four years, England have enough in tank for World Cup 2023


July 14, 2019, turned out to be a red-letter-day for English cricket, as they won the 50-over World Cup for the first time. The historic triumph was a culmination of four years of planning, wherein they mostly had a settled side.

Most importantly, they overhauled their style of play by imbibing an aggressive brand of cricket. Four years on, how are England shaping up for the defence of their World Cup? Do they have enough resources to fill different positions the way they want? What about injury woes?

To understand the dynamics of the Jos Buttler-led side, one has to delve deeper. Since the 2019 World Cup, one of the biggest drawbacks for England’s limited-over sides has been the struggle to call upon their best players for various bilateral series. Quite a few of those were held when the Covid-19 restrictions were on. So for the sake of workload management, some key players were rested. When a sense of normalcy returned, some of those postponed series were rescheduled, but due to the packed calendar, England and some other sides had to field under-strength line-ups.

Despite the pandemic throwing a spanner in their works, England still have enough bench-strength, especially in batting. Coach Matthew Mott and the think-tank now have the task of finding the right pieces to complete the puzzle.

Let’s look at how England can join together various nuts and bolts:

Opening options: Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Jason Roy, Ben Duckett

Among the four, Bairstow is an established member of the side and is expected to walk into the XI. The left-handed Malan has been in prime form: Four hundreds in 18 ODIs at 54.93. Malan seems adept at pacing the innings and playing according to the situation and conditions. Tons against Australia and South Africa in Adelaide and Kimberley, where he found the right gears, testify that. When confronted with a tricky pitch and three spinners against Bangladesh in Mirpur, he glued the innings together and piloted England to a hard-fought win.

That innings also points to a batter who seems to have upgraded his game against spin. At the start of the year, Malan had credited his experience of playing tournaments in Bangladesh — BPL and DPL — as a key reason for this improvement. There could still be a chink in his armour. There is a feeling that the experienced southpaw doesn’t fire on big stages like ICC tournaments. It is partly true. In the couple of T20 World Cups Malan played, he wasn’t at the top of his game. But since he can start steadily before gradually hitting top gear, it seems ODIs could be his format. Malan also provides England with the option of having a left-hander at the top.

Roy, the third contender, is a proven performer, having made an impact in the 2019 World Cup. However, since then, his form has been indifferent: 890 runs at an average of just over 30. Roy has also had issues against left-arm spin. Recently, he cracked tons against South Africa and Bangladesh and would likely make it to the squad. But it would be interesting to see if England take a punt and play him in the XI.

Duckett also is in the fray. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make his chances count during the ODIs in South Africa. He didn’t play in Bangladesh as he was with the Test squad. The southpaw can disrupt the spinner’s lengths with his sweeps and reverse sweeps, and is severe on width offered by pace bowlers. Duckett can also fit in the middle order. But he might just miss out on being on a flight to India as England seem to have enough options for the opening slots.

Number 3, 4 and 5: Joe Root, Harry Brook, Jos Buttler

Buttler looks set to occupy the No 5 position. Joe Root and Harry Brook could find themselves at No 3 and 4. Root, though, has played a mere 15 ODIs since the last World Cup. Once again, hectic schedules have played a part in England not being able to fit him in the ODI set-up. There was perhaps a small window for him to play the ODIs in South Africa. His short stint in the ILT20 ended on January 22, while the ODI series in South Africa commenced on January 27. The subsequent England versus New Zealand Test series started on February 8.

As per a report in Daily Telegraph, England decided to fly over to New Zealand on January 28, with an eye of having a team-building camp. As Root was one of the senior members of the Test side, it was decided that it would be better for him to attend the camp. Whatever the reasons, the mainstay of the England batting unit would be hoping to play in the forthcoming ODIs against New Zealand and Ireland in the build-up to the World Cup.

Brook would hope to showcase his skills in the World Cup. Just a few months ago, he found it difficult to lay down a marker during the IPL in India. It seemed as if the talented batter was trying to premeditate a bit too much, resulting in some of his dismissals. Perhaps the 50-over format would see a slightly different version of Brook.

Numbers 6 and 7: Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone

The veteran Moeen Ali could make it to the side at No 6. The all-rounder’s form has been patchy in the last four years, having aggregated 446 runs in 28 matches in that period. He has taken just 15 wickets in those matches. On a slightly positive note, he found a bit of his batting rhythm in the ODIs against South Africa and Bangladesh, accruing scores of 51, 41 and 42.

Sam Curran could take the next slot. Player of the Series in the T20 World Cup in Australia, he still has to find his groove in the 50-over format. One of the question marks against him is can he consistently bowl around 8-10 overs? His brand of cutters, slower short ones, wide yorkers and the left-arm angle could still provide England with some ammunition in Indian conditions.

Liam Livingstone is the other option. The Lancashire batter is a big hitter, alongside being a useful spinner — off-spin and leg-spin. Livingstone also comes across as a livewire on the field. Perhaps, depending on conditions, England would pick one of the two in the XI.

The bowlers

Chris Woakes’ all-round skills could get him a place in the XI, at No 8. Adil Rashid has the wisdom of experience, while Rehan Ahmed has loads of skill. Although Rashid would in all likelihood make it to the squad, Rehan is one for the future. The USP of Rehan is his ability to give the ball a fair rip and bowl a potent googly. He is also a useful batter. Liam Dawson, the left-arm spinner, is a wildcard.

For the final two slots, England have injury concerns. Paul Farbrace, Sussex head coach, believes Jofra Archer is on track to play in the World Cup. Archer, however, has had as many as five surgeries on his right elbow. England would love to have one of their fulcrums of the pace attack summoning quick spells and extracting lift in India, but fitness will be a concern. Meanwhile, Mark Wood is in the form of his life. Unless laid low by some injury, he looks set to be in the XI.

Who could be the reserve pacers? Reece Topley can be one. The tall bowler has enough weapons in his quiver — the left-arm angle, a hint of in-swing, good change-ups and also extracts a bit of bounce. He is one of those with the uncanny ability to bowl from round the wicket and impart some overspin. On the other hand, Olly Stone has extra pace and offers hit-the-deck skills. Unfortunately, both of them have been injury-prone.

David Willey and Brydon Carse are the other available options but probably England would take a bit of risk by including either of Stone or Topley in the squad.

Predicted XI

Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran/Liam Livingstone, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer (subject to fitness).

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