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