Very much a mixed bag. Some superb, unexpected wins against Sri Lanka and India in recent months have occurred alongside some archetypal drubbings. Nevertheless, there is cautious optimism from both inside the England camp and out, that this current squad is as talented as any that have headed to a World Cup.
Although the continuous sequence of ODI’s this winter has felt an arduous process at times, it has worked for England in the sense that all of their top order have posted big scores at one point. Ian Bell seems to have clicked into gear at just the right time, while Moeen Ali’s explosive performances have been as refreshing as they have been unexpected. For the first time ever, particularly with Jos Buttler floating in the middle order, England have a team that are capable of going out and posting 320. Unorthodox, exciting and fearless, this young band of batsmen could go some way to eradicating the traumas of England’s last winter in Australia.
With one serious caveat that will be addressed later; the seam attack looks good. Missing the Sri Lanka series means that James Anderson and Stuart Broad are fit and firing. Immensely experienced and equally skilful, England have a good chance of knocking over top orders in the first 10 overs. Given the obscene totals teams have been posting in the last 12 months, this is often where matches are won and lost. Chris Woakes, meanwhile, is consistently delivering to silence the critics that have long dismissed him as a county level trundler.
Finally, this is a prodigious fielding outfit. Eoin Morgan won’t have to worry about hiding anyone, a welcome relief to a man with more than enough on his plate to begin with.
As talented and exciting as the batting may be, it is still inconsistent. Middle order collapses seemed to be entrenched in the DNA of English ODI cricket, and this team still hasn’t shrugged that off yet. The Tri-Series final also demonstrated that Mitchell Johnson still has the ability to rip them apart. To be successful in the latter stages, a team will have to put together three strong batting performances in a row. This England team still feels as if it is a year or two away from being able to deliver that kind of consistency.
The bowling attack may be strong in the opening exchanges, but the death bowling remains chronically poor. In their determination to keep front line seamers in good condition for Test Match Cricket, English Cricket just does not expose its bowlers to high pressure, limited overs situations in which they can hone their skills. They are lightyears behind the main contenders on this front, and much rests on Chris Woakes getting it right.
It seems skipper Morgan doesn’t fancy Ravi Bopara as a bowler, which creates a real headache given that his batting is far from its best. If Morgan doesn’t give him orders, surely England should replace him with Garry Ballance? Unflappable, hits a long ball and accumulates quickly; he could add some serious steel to the batting.
Another obvious weakness is leaving your most naturally gifted player, currently in the form of his life, at home. Nope, not KP. Ben Stokes. Maddeningly inconsistent, but England have managed him appallingly.
Steve Finn – This time last year Finn’s career had collapsed, and even though his pace is still some way down for its peak, he looks a threat again. England just need to step back and let him go. He bowls straight and gets good lift. A natural wicket taker, he has the ability to halt team’s momentum in the middle overs, where England have been guilty in the past of letting the game drift.
James Taylor – Was there a more depressing moment in English Cricket last year (Ashes debacle aside, of course) than when Paul Downton announced on TMS that he had been surprised by James Taylor’s form? Even the most cursory glance at domestic cricket would have revealed a player with supreme ability to put together big, match winning innings in this format. His diminutive stature disrupts bowler’s lengths, and he can hit the ball almost anywhere. His proactive approach also seems to bring the best out of his middle order partners Root, Morgan and Buttler. If he isn’t already a star, he will be by the team this World Cup ends.
Game to watch
England vs Australia, February 14th. The curtain-raiser for these two sides in the tournament, the perfect Valentines Day treat, and the oldest rivalry in cricket. What else do you need?
It is almost impossible to imagine England winning, they are just far too inconsistent. However, England fans can set their alarms for the small hours without any trepidation. This is a team rich in promise that with a bit of luck, can definitely make it to the Semi-Finals.