England has never won a World Cup in 44 years. Many believe that the 12th edition of the showpiece event of cricket, which will be played in England and Wales this summer, will be the host's best chance of etching its name on the coveted trophy in nearly half a century of limited overs cricket.
England " already the number one team in ICC rankings " is the odds on favourite to win this time round. The talented Indians are also prime contenders for top honours along with the resurgent Australians " who are also reigning champs " and the unpredictable Pakistanis. The New Zealanders, the South Africans and the men from the West Indies too can't be discounted. However, the home side, under the astute leadership of Eoin Morgan, seems to be peaking at the right time and could find themselves on the podium, come 14 July, at the presentation ceremony.
In fact, England has been building up on its resources for an assault on the World Cup for the last couple of years under Morgan and coach, Trevor Bayliss. The powerful batting lineup, the aggressive bowling and outstanding fielding are all a part of a well laid out plan. England starts its campaign in World Cup 2019 on 30 May with a match against South Africa at The Oval.
Entering the last four stages in all the five World Cup tournaments between 1975 and 1992, England played three finals i.e. in 1979, 1987 and 1992. The years 1999, 2003 and 2015 saw the team being ousted at the group stages. Its record, since 1996, tells the story of how limited overs cricket was neglected by England in the new millennium, while others paid special attention to the different versions of the game. Out of the 11 World Cup tournaments played till date, Australia has won five, the West Indies and India have won two each, and Pakistan and Sri Lanka have won one each.
In the '79 final at Lord's, the West Indies were 99-4 when Collis King walked in to join Viv Richards. On the way he had a swig of brandy and went after the English bowlers, scoring 86 off 66 balls. Richards scored an unbeaten 138. Chasing 286 in 60 overs, England made 194, with the 6'8" Joel Garner claiming 5-38 in 11 overs and ripping through the home side's lower order. In 1987, in the Reliance World Cup final at Kolkata, England lost to Australia by seven runs " the closest it has come to winning the World Cup. In 1992, in the B&H World Cup final at Melbourne, Pakistan, the underdog beat England by 22 runs, thanks to a brilliant spell of swing and pace bowling from Wasim Akram.
The World Cup of 2019 will probably be different; at least English fans would like to believe so. The England team will bat deep, and it will bat with aplomb. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Morgan, Jos Buttler and Joe Root are in excellent form. They will be backed by Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and others who are capable of hitting the ball far back into the stands, and regularly.
Bairstow and Buttler are two batsmen who made merry in the IPL this season. The former, in particular, was severe on the bowlers in the 'power play' in the ten matches that he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad and has carried that form into the English season. Buttler, of course, has been batting like a champion ever since the IPL season of 2018. Roy too is as dangerous as they come and can hit the new ball a fair distance. Morgan and Root have the capability of holding the innings together while scoring at a good clip.
It is unfortunate that a batsman of the quality of Alex Hales had to be left out of the England plan for World Cup '19, not only because of his failed drug test, but as the team management said, because of his utter disregard for what the England team has worked for over the last couple of years.
English wickets are expected to be flat and dry this summer, as is visible in the ODI series against Pakistan. Therefore, large-hearted pacers like David Willey, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood and Stokes will fetch England value-for-money this World Cup. Jofra Archer is expected to join the team for the big event, probably at the expense of Tom Curran or Joe Denly and will add teeth to the already formidable attack. Spinners Moeen Ali and Rashid Khan will provide the much needed variety to the attack on tracks that do not respond to pace, seam and cut.
The England team has taken its fielding standards to new heights in recent years " its support staff has made certain that the team comes off the field having put in more than a hundred percent effort in saving runs, effecting run outs and converting half chances into catches. Man for man, England could be the best fielding side, this World Cup.
Looking at how the team is shaping up against Pakistan in the ODI series, England should in all probability win seven out of its nine matches in the round-robin league, unless weather intervenes. The Indians and the Australians could push them to the ropes and the West Indies, if Chris Gayle and Andre Russell are in their element, could give them a fright. England should therefore make it to the final four without much of a sweat. The semifinal, and the final, is where their temperament will be tested.
"Winning is not a sometime thing; it is an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while ¦ you do them right all the time, because winning is a habit," said former American football coach, Vince Lombardi. He also said, "Like winning, losing is a habit too!" England has made it to the World Cup final thrice " and thrice it has faltered. It is time a highly talented team like England gets into the winning habit.
Forty-four long years have passed and 11 World Cups have come and gone. England's mantelpiece is still empty; perhaps Eoin Morgan's boys will get it right this time round.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he doesn't believe in calling a spade a shovel.