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World Cup Predictions: Dark Horses England may have just woken up on time

"A fresh challenge sometimes necessitates the need for an equally charged-up, unburdened side."

FEATURED WRITER
26 Jan 2015, 18:42 IST
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Under Eoin Morgan’s leadership, England have looked a very different ODI unit

A fresh challenge sometimes necessitates the need for an equally charged-up, unburdened side. Rocked by the unceremonious sacking of one of their premier batsmen, losing the Ashes and then axing their long-standing captain from the World Cup contingent, England have had a turbulent ride over the past few months. Nevertheless, the wholesale changes seem to have done them a world of good, as they have displayed a wonderful resurgence of form and grit in the on-going ODI tri-series in Australia. It definitely bodes well for their chances in the upcoming quadrennial showpiece event, and they might just have a decent run in the tournament this time around.

To be honest, I’m backing the Poms to come good. After all, they were the ones who gave the world the game of cricket; we wouldn’t even be having a World Cup otherwise. Their rock-solid tenacity, of late, has been their biggest strength, as they managed to hold their own against the likes of Australia and India, trouncing the latter quite handsomely in their last meeting. The players stood up to be counted, made the ball talk and wielded their willows like assault weapons – this is a true sign of changing times for the Lions. Perhaps the change in outfit is another reason.

I have based my prediction of England’s chances using certain parameters listed below. Even if they’re currently in red-hot form, there are still quite a few improvement areas. Plus, they have been clubbed together with powerhouses Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and the unpredictable minnows. This can be referred to as the Group of Death, going by form alone. Still, I have based my conclusions on what is available and in terms of trends the Poms have exhibited in World Cups since the first one ever.

Worst and best case scenarios

Given the format of the upcoming tournament, it is imperative for the English to go for the win, and win big, from Game One onwards. They’re in a tough group, and only an all-round superlative performance will help them to qualify for the Knockouts. While they might have to tighten up their approach against the minnows (having lost to Ireland in the previous edition), the Poms will have to play out of their skins if they’re to outwit the host nations.

The Kangaroos are difficult to beat at home, while the Kiwis have been extremely unpredictable in recent times; England will have to conjure something very special to triumph over them. Sri Lanka, too, is another side the Lions will have to be wary of, as they have the tendency to cause upsets at the most crucial stages. All of this builds up a lot of pressure, but a calm approach, clever planning and immaculate execution of strategies should see England progress to the Quarter Finals.

In the worst case scenario, England suffer heavy defeats to all three of the afore-mentioned powerhouses. Quite possible, given the fact that they do tend to panic when a few wickets fall early. They have exhibited over-reliance on some of their key players, and that might just prove to be their undoing in crunch situations. Three losses in the group stages are a sure sign of an early exit, and an outcome Eoin Morgan definitely won’t be thinking about. The current squad is high on talent, but low on World Cup experience: they should look to approach each game as if it were their last and play without fear.

I expect the Poms to at least make it to the quarter-finals if they remain consistent and hold their nerves under pressure. If they’re lucky, they might even just make it to the semi finals. After all, they do have history on their side (finalists in 1979, 1987 and 1992, and semi-finalists in 1975 and 1983). The good thing is that they have a fresh set of legs in their squad now, backed by a wealth of limited-overs experience. Some of them would be playing in their maiden World Cup, and they can take heart from the fact that it’s going to be in conditions quite similar to their home country. Quarters it is!

Worst Case Group Stages (based on their record against minnows)
Best Case Quarter Finals (based on current form)
Optimistic Case Semi Finals (based on Historical Form)
Biggest Obstacles Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka

Players to watch out for

Eoin Morgan is England’s best shot at World Cup glory, both as batsman and leader

This was a rather difficult listing, because there are so many proven match-winners in the World Cup squad England has announced that it’s not easy to pick a sole candidate. For simplicity, I decided to select a set of individuals who have done well for their nation with bat and ball in ODIs. A few have impressed me, and others still have quite some time to go before they become integral to the squad’s plans. Nevertheless, here’s my list:

  1. Eoin Morgan (captain) – He has effortlessly slipped into the leadership role since taking over from Alastair Cook with less than two months to go for the marquee event. Lithe, quick and blessed with the exact temperament needed for ODI cricket, the Irishman (in an ironic twist) is the mainstay of the side. His outrageous shots have proved to be more boon than bane, and his tactical nous is second to none. If England are to lift a second trophy to add to their 2010 Twenty20 crown, it’s going to be his broad shoulders that will carry the hopes of a nation long bereft of the sweetness of triumphing at a major ICC event.
  2. Ian Bell –  In 50-over cricket, you need to have a reliable, sound opening batsman who is capable of attacking as well as consolidating in the middle overs. The Sledgehammer of Eternal Justice has literally come into his own in the ongoing tri-series against Australia and India. While the middle order suits him in Test cricket, he certainly fills a huge void at the opening slot. Capable of taking on even the most fearsome of opposition bowlers, and able to graft at will, Bell gives the top order a stability that was lacking for a long time. Expect him to go hammer and tongs in this World Cup!
  3. James AndersonThe current spearhead of England’s bowling attack, the Lancashire seamer has been one of the critical success factors in his nation’s ODI successes. Bowling with an unusual side-on action – head down, eyes closed – and exhibiting perfect control over seam and swing, he has caused havoc among rival lineups more often than not. On lively tracks in Australia and New Zealand, he will be unplayable if he keeps pitching the ball into the right areas and doesn’t become too profligate. England will look to Anderson to strike early with the new ball, and his pairing with Steven Finn will certainly be a boost to their quarter-final hopes.
  4. Steven Finn – Middlesex’s 6’7” pacer has got it all: good speeds, perfect line and length, a wicked short ball and stamina. He has troubled the world’s best batsmen repeatedly, giving them a good working over before slipping one past their defences. Finn was devastating against India in the Carlton Mid ODI series, grabbing five wickets and breaking the back of the much-vaunted Indian lineup with his immaculate lines and prodigious seam movement. Like his partner Anderson, the powerfully-built seamer will certainly pose more than a few questions to rival batsmen in this World Cup.

Verdict

England will do well to reach the quarter-final stage at least. What happens from there is merely the icing on the cake. If all goes well, they might soon return to the scene of the 1992 final and perhaps bury the ghosts of the past with a lion-hearted display. But to do that, they will have to pass through fire and ice, and Morgan’s men are well-set to do exactly that. Over to the World Cup!

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