Brides­maids again?

Eng­land has a fee­ble rep­u­ta­tion in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy, warns a pes­simistic Rod­er­ick Eas­dale

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Rod­er­ick Eas­dale as­sesses the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy field

THE ICC Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy, which starts to­mor­row with Eng­land play­ing Bangladesh at the Oval, gives the home side yet an­other chance to rec­tify a strange omis­sion in their crick­et­ing CV. Eleven World Cups and seven Cham­pi­ons Tro­phies have gone by and the coun­try that in­vented and de­vel­oped the lim­ited-overs game has still to win one, even though they’ve had a home ad­van­tage in six of these tour­na­ments.

Eng­land hosted the last Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy, in 2013, and got through to the fi­nal, against In­dia at Edg­bas­ton, played on a pitch more sub­con­ti­nen­tal in char­ac­ter than any­thing you’d ex­pect to find in the West Mid­lands. De­spite this, how­ever, and the er­ror of leav­ing out Graeme Swann in con­di­tions that would have been ideal for his spin, Eng­land were com­fort­ably head­ing for vic­tory be­fore they failed to make the fi­nal 20 runs needed to win from 16 balls with six wick­ets in hand.

Only three of that side—eoin Mor­gan, Joe Root and Jos But­tler—are in the 15-man squad this time, as Eng­land have over­hauled both team and tac­tics. Out have gone steady run ac­cu­mu­la­tors and, in their stead, have come ex­plo­sive bat­ters; out, too, the bits-and-pieces player in favour of the at­tack­ing bowler. The con­se­quence has been an up­turn in Eng­land’s per­for­mances and they’re the book­ies’ favourite, even though they’re ranked as only the fifth best one-day side.

South Africa are ranked top, but con­tinue to be dogged by a rep­u­ta­tion for chok­ing; they’ve found bizarre ways to fail to win cru­cial tour­na­ment games—once, simply through not un­der­stand­ing what to­tal they needed to win. How­ever, South Africa have won a tour­na­ment —the in­au­gu­ral Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in 1998 —so rel­e­gat­ing them be­low peren­nial brides­maids Eng­land (five-time run­ners up) on the ba­sis that Eng­land are bet­ter at win­ning tour­na­ments seems harsh.

Eng­land have also shown a re­cur­ring abil­ity to choke, that 2013 fi­nal be­ing a prime case. The only pre­vi­ous time that the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy was held in Eng­land, in 2004, Michael Vaughan’s side was cruis­ing to vic­tory in the fi­nal be­fore they al­lowed the West Indies’ numbers nine and ten to add 71 for the ninth wicket in a low-scor­ing game.

An­other de­feat snatched from the jaws of vic­tory was in the last Twenty20 World Cup, a com­pe­ti­tion that Eng­land have ac­tu­ally won, in 2010. They could have won it again in 2016, but, with the West Indies need­ing 19 off the last over of the fi­nal, Car­los Brath­waite hit each of the next four de­liv­er­ies from Ben Stokes for six.

The West Indies, the world 20-over cham­pi­ons, are not in this 50-over Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy. Only the top eight teams in the ICC ODI rank­ings, as at Septem­ber 30, 2015, qual­i­fied. The West Indies were, and still are, ninth.

Teams have been drawn into two groups of four, the top two in each group pro­gress­ing to the semi-fi­nal stage, with the fi­nal at the Kia Oval on June 18. Eng­land are in the tougher group with Aus­tralia, Bangladesh and New Zealand. Group B com­prises In­dia, Pak­istan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

An Eng­land vic­tory here—or in the World Cup, for which the side are again hosts—would jus­tify Eng­land Di­rec­tor of Cricket An­drew Strauss’s de­ci­sion to pick Trevor Bayliss as coach, an Aus­tralian with no ex­pe­ri­ence of the English game and whose coach­ing rep­u­ta­tion lay in white-ball cricket.

Eng­land’s white-ball per­for­mances have im­proved un­der Bayliss, but the Test ones have de­clined. Strauss will want a tan­gi­ble re­ward in the white-ball for­mat to off­set the losses

‘Out have gone steady run ac­cu­mu­la­tors and in have come ex­plo­sive bat­ters’

in Test cricket (12 in Bayliss’s 26 matches in charge, set against only 10 wins). Al­though Eng­land’s bat­ting has gone up a gear, the team of­ten strug­gle to take wick­ets mid in­nings. If they can over­come this—which prob­a­bly re­quires mer­cu­rial leg spin­ner Adil Rashid to have a good tour­na­ment— they will be highly com­pet­i­tive.

The most likely semi-fi­nal­ists are Eng­land, Aus­tralia, South Africa and In­dia. South Africa look strong, their leg­gie, Im­ran Tahir, is the high­est ranked one-day bowler in the world and their bat­ting has a pow­er­ful look. Aus­tralia have a good all-round side and a win­ning men­tal­ity.

If Aus­tralia beat Eng­land in the fi­nal, that would fit his­tory. No team has won more ICC world tour­na­ments than Aus­tralia—and no side has lost more fi­nals than Eng­land.

Can Joe Root take his Test match form into this sum­mer’s Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy?

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