Cricket World Cup: Where Are England Seven Months Out From Title Defence, Plus Pick Your Team



Cricket World Cup: Where are England seven months out from title defence, plus pick your team

Jos Buttler’s side don’t play another one-day international for six months and start their World Cup defence in India a month later.

With the help of Cricviz and BBC Test Match Special pundit and former England spinner Phil Tufnell, we look at the questions still facing England as they look to retain the trophy they dramatically won in 2019.

You can also pick your England XI for the World Cup at the bottom of the page.

Once such a strength as the openers bludgeoned attacks into submission during the powerplay, England have found runs at the top of the order harder to come by in recent times.

In the year leading up to the 2019 tournament, Eoin Morgan’s side led the way in the batting powerplay in a host of categories, not least runs scored.

But under the leadership of Buttler and coach Matthew Mott, they’re scoring fewer runs, losing more wickets and allowing more dot balls on average.

Jason Roy’s extended run of poor form in 2022 was a big part of that but, with doubts on whether he merits a place, recent hundreds against South Africa and Bangladesh have eased the pressure.

“He has done well, he had a very lean trot and when the pressure is on, you’ve got to go out and put in some performances,” Tufnell told BBC Sport.

“He got those couple of very timely tons. It’s good to see him back scoring runs and looking confident at the crease again. Those runs might just give him the nod because he was such a crucial part of England’s success.”

England will also hope to have Roy’s old opening partner Jonny Bairstow back after the double leg break that has kept him out since September.

Phil Salt has opened in the Yorkshireman’s absence, but a top score of 35 in six innings – since Buttler became captain – has not seen him make the position his own.

Dawid Malan is another option after hitting a hundred, and half-century, at the top of the order in South Africa before another ton at number three in Bangladesh.

“Jonny Bairstow is a fabulous player,” Tufnell added. “It will be great to get him back and that is going to be crucial because he’s a feared batsman, globally. He slots straight back in for me.

“Then, if Alex Hales is available – and after the T20 World Cup, he must be in with a chance.”

‘Make-up of the side is crucial’

With England’s priorities elsewhere, the ODI side has not had the benefit of playing with a settled XI in the same way as they did in 2019. However, Mott and Buttler have managed to find consistency with the balance of the side.

The preferred formula has seen them go with four batters, three all-rounders and three bowlers, plus Buttler as the wicketkeeper.

The individuals slotting into the team have varied but the make-up has very rarely altered.

“You’ve got to be very flexible, especially in the subcontinent,” said Tufnell.

“England have been getting it pretty right in white-ball cricket for the last four or five years. Jos is growing into his captaincy role as well. It was a little bit tricky at the start but he’s now putting a real stamp on things.

“The make-up of the side is going to be crucial and they’re going to need a pretty clear plan.”

Whatever the plan, choosing the best XI to execute it remains an unenviable task.

Joe Root was England’s leading run-scorer at the 2019 World Cup, averages 50.05 in ODIs and, despite not playing an international white-ball game since last July, can be expected to slot back in, especially given the importance of playing spin in India.

Root has batted at three in the vast majority of his ODI innings since 2015, but might need to drop to four to accommodate Malan, whose four centuries and average of 54.92 would make him a shoo-in for any other side.

And where does that leave Harry Brook? The 24-year-old has starred for the Test side this winter and was part of the T20 World Cup-winning side as well.

“It’s a headache,” said Tufnell. “You have all these guys who can slip in, but do you need to be thinking outside the box and see how the tournament progresses?

“It’s going to be so interesting because it is a difficult place to play and so many different factors come into it.”

There is similar competition for the all-rounders’ spots. Sam Curran was player of the tournament at the T20 World Cup and, despite less impressive ODI numbers, he played a starring role in the Bangladesh series victory.

Liam Livingstone offers remarkable power hitting and another spin bowling option, Moeen Ali provides much the same as well as vast experience and the tactical nous to ease the burden on Buttler.

Chris Woakes is a double World Cup winner and a reliable, skilful new-ball bowler. Based on the preferred set-up, that is already four into three before you even contemplate the possible return of Ben Stokes.

The Test captain has retired from ODI cricket, citing the hectic international schedule. His focus will be on The Ashes this summer, but England don’t play another ODI until a month after that series has finished and given Stokes’ heroics in 2019 and the T20 World Cup final in Australia, it seems certain they will at least try to tempt him back.

“For my mind, any side with Ben Stokes is going to be a better side,” Tufnell added. “Do you try and have a word with him?

“All these things have got to be put in place because what you don’t want is to be going over there without clear planning. You want these things well sorted. I’d definitely be asking the question to Ben.”

‘Finding that magic little formula’

Liam Plunkett played a vital role for Morgan’s 2019 side with his uncanny ability to take wickets through the middle overs.

The seamer was the first of the World Cup winners to be moved on after the final, but England are still yet to satisfactorily fill the void he left.

So who can take up ‘the Plunkett role’ in India?

“The spinners,” said Tufnell. “Then you’ve got Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes. Sam Curran is having a fabulous time – he’s got to get in there somewhere.

“It’s about finding that magic little formula that makes it all tick. I think it is going to be a squad game and people are going to have to be ready at a moment’s notice, but this England side is very experienced now.”

England have tried a number of options through the middle under Buttler, but with the team chopping and changing so frequently, it is hard to know who they have earmarked for the role of enforcer this autumn.

Unsurprisingly, the spin duo of Adil Rashid and Moeen have had a heavy workload in this passage of play with the Yorkshireman far and away the most successful England bowler between the 11th and 40th overs. The hope will be Moeen, and possibly Livingstone, are more effective on spin-friendly surfaces in India.

Perhaps height is a factor. The shorter, skiddier bowlers such as Curran and Wood have struggled for wickets in the middle overs. Taller bowlers – more similar to Plunkett – such as Archer, Reece Topley and Olly Stone have taken wickets far more frequently.

‘Build an attack around Archer’

Leading into 2019, England’s biggest weakness was their death bowling. Adding Archer to the mix in the final months before the World Cup helped address that and the 27-year-old fast bowler will be just as crucial this year.

His numbers in the final 10 overs of an innings since returning from injury are remarkable – eight wickets at 4.75, a strike-rate of six and all while going at a mere 4.75 runs an over.

The sample size is small, but Archer’s importance to England is clear.

“Jofra Archer is a fabulous player to have coming back,” added Tufnell. “He’s slotted in well now after his injury and seems to be fully fit and firing. You’re looking to build an attack around him.”

As for who might assist him late in the innings, Curran has been expensive at the back end of ODIs, but was exceptional in that role in the T20 side and has done similarly as well in the Indian Premier League.

Woakes and Wood have also bowled at the death during their England careers.

Rashid has performed admirably too when he’s bowled in the final 10 overs and, on turning surfaces, could prove a useful asset, particularly against the lower order.

“We forget about Chris Jordan,” Tufnell said. “Perhaps he’s more T20, but he’s an option at the death.

“It all depends what gets served up to you in the subcontinent, what type of pitches there are. You have to be flexible and then at a moment’s notice, you could fancy someone as a gut feel or someone has been performing well and they come in.”

Source – BBC News



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