By David de Winter – Sports Editor
England kick-off their World Cup campaign against familiar foe Australia on Saturday morning but if they are to have any chance of success in the competition they must dispense with Eoin Morgan. He may have only recently assumed the captaincy from Alastair Cook but no player, no matter what their reputation or standing, should be undroppable as Morgan seemingly is.
His recent form has been nothing short of diabolical and he has only played a handful of meaningful innings in the last two years in both ODI and T20 formats. For England in 2015 he has scored 162 runs in seven innings at an average of 23. Take out his 121 against Australia last month and that reads as an average of 6.83 in 6 innings, including three ducks in his last four innings during which period he averages 0.5. The irony is that he replaced Cook as captain who was deemed to no longer be worth his place in the team.
How can Morgan still be assured of selection with such terrible recent record? When he was first appointed after the Sri Lanka series I was immediately sceptical. He had been scratching around on that tour and the previous summer wasting balls and generally losing games for England rather than assuming his celebrated role as ‘finisher.’ If Cook was not worth his place in the one-day side, then Morgan, who had a very similar record to Cook’s (they have almost identical ODI averages), was certainly in the same boat. Instead the ECB, whilst making the correct decision to remove Cook, took the safe, obvious but wrong option in handing the captaincy to Morgan and with it blew England’s admittedly already slim chances of winning the World Cup.
Of the players guaranteed a place in the side, only James Anderson, Jos Buttler and Joe Root are captaincy candidates (Broad is not certain starter, especially given his below-par recent performances). Anderson I imagine would be a reluctant captain, so why not hand the ‘armband’ over to either Buttler or Root? Yes both are young and relatively inexperienced but at least they contribute to the team performance. ODI captaincy is largely formulaic. Rarely does a captain make left-field decisions or post innovative field positions, unlike in Test Matches. It could be argued that burdening Buttler with the captaincy could adversely affect his wicket-keeping and naturally carefree strokeplay – so then give the role to Root. He is a relatively mature young man, he doesn’t seem to be lacking in confidence and he is batting well. It is an a lot more appealing prospect than Morgan.
So little do Morgan and Ravi Bopara contribute to the England team that they are effectively playing with only 9 men. Morgan has so often wasted valuable time and deliveries ‘getting set’ only to get out in the teens. Nowadays he struggles to even reach 10. Similarly, Bopara’s inclusion as an ‘all-rounder’ is totally superfluous because he contributes little with the bat and, whilst he is a canny seamer, bowls so few overs. These positions could be taken up by the likes of Kent’s Sam Billings, Surrey’s Jason Roy or Alex Hales to name but a few – modern players who play contemporary one-day cricket, unlike England’s brand of yesteryear (even though Ben Stokes is slaying South Africa A to all parts, he had his chance to stake his claim in Sri Lanka and failed to grasp it).
Alas Billings and Roy are with the Lions and therefore Hales and Gary Ballance are the only other options. If England, as expected, are to play four seamers plus Moeen Ali then if required Joe Root can turn his arm over for a couple of overs so get rid of an all-rounder slot and fill it with an in-form specialist batsman, maybe Hales opening and pop Moeen down at 7. Chris Jordan hasn’t convinced me he’s international class yet. It’s painfully clear that England will not win the World Cup in their current state so they may as well try something that will give them a fighting chance.
So from World Cup no-hopers to the favourites. I’m tipping (kiss of death) co-hosts New Zealand and Australia as well as South Africa. Because of the pace-friendly pitches down-under, the teams with the best fast bowlers will fare the best (a glimmer of hope for England). The likes of Tim Southee and Trent Boult for New Zealand, Mitchells Starc and Johnson for Australia, and South Africa’s Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will certainly be key players. As was evident in the Tri-series in January, India’s medium-pacers will get murdered by any half-decent batting line up and their own batsmen are susceptible to the short ball. Sri Lanka are always there or thereabouts at the World Cup having reached the previous two finals and it will be a final swansong for a true great of the game, Kumar Sangakkara. Familiar behind-the-scenes squabbles have seemingly thwarted West Indies’ chances whose preparations have been in disarray.
My dark horses are Pakistan. Their pace attack is pretty handy with the likes of 7ft giant Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz to call upon and they have a dangerous if unpredictable bowling line-up. Throw in matchwinners Shahid Afridi (more for his skilful bowling than his kamikaze batting) playing in his 5th tournament, experienced batsman Younus Khan and captain Misbah ul-Haq – and you have a really promising team. If they can avoid the tendency to self-implode then they could cause a few upsets.
So there you have it. England will underwhelm and lose at the first knockout stage (rather like the football team); West Indies will entertain on and off the field; David Warner will sledge someone inappropriately and generally get on everyone’s nerves; and Geoffrey Boycott will most likely mention Katy Perry and/or say something politically incorrect on TMS. Let’s just revel in watching the world’s best cricketers compete against each other. What a wonderful seven weeks it’s going to be.
photocredit: Shay Nimmo