Thursday, February 3, 2011

Team England, World Cup 2011

GROUP B (Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa, West Indies)

ODI Rank - 5
ODI Rating - 109

Last World Cup - Super-8
Finals Appearances - thrice
Best in a World Cup - Runner-up ('79, '87, '92)

Andrew Strauss (C), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan (replaced by Ravi Bopara), Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior(wk), Ajmal Shahzad, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy

Strength - (if fit) Fast bowlers
Weakness - FITNESS, inability to play consistently on slow tracks


If one calls South Africa "chokers", one might have to think again. England is the team that went to three world cup finals and lost each of them! And I will not hold anything back in saying, this is the best squad ever sent to a world cup. Well, it seemed so a couple of weeks ago. Most players in the squad have been in good touch in their respective department in ODIs or in test cricket (Ashes). Collingwood, who just retired from test cricket (before he could be droppped) will be playing his last world cup, and maybe his last international cricket tournament. The only surprise came in when Prior was selected ahead of Davies, who had been the keeper for England in the last 2 or more series.

Andrew Strauss has been becoming more of a respected captain, and the two of Strauss and Andy Flower (the coach) have been getting together the English side for more than an year in the build up for the WC. The batting issues seems to have been solved. Bell has been pushed lower down the order, instead of making him open. Bell will prefer middle order to opening, his natural game surely would. So, England now has Strauss accompanied by Matt Prior at the opening slots. Prior was called into the squad after his performance in the Ashes, and it took him a couple of ODIs to finally start firing. The left-right combo like to attack the seamers up front, with Prior being more aggressive. Prior loves going straight, Strauss is better square of the wicket. So, bowling will have to be smart... But, like the Australians have been showing in the 7-match series, it's no big deal to break them apart early!

Middle order is great on the paper - Trott, KP, Bell, Collingwood, Morgan. On paper, yes. Trott has managed to extend his batting form from the Ashes to the ODI series. He was slow in a couple of games, but managed to score at a faster pace in the 6th game in a losing cause. He is one of the coolest batsman at the crease, who relies more on placement and timing than on power. Well, he has cemented the sheet-anchor role, atleast. KP comes in as a fearesome big man with the bat, who I feel is not yet consistent with the bat either side of the event of him being dropped from the side. Once in a while he as exploded - once in test series, once in ODIs... But, he has had a good run in series played in India. Bell is in very good touch with the bat, and is likely to be the strokemaker in the middle of the innings. Collingwood's place in the middle order is questionable in isolation, but he adds to the side the calmness and experience, and the English team is expecting him to deliver his due at the world cup, after failing expectations for almost the whole of Ashes and the ODI tour. Morgan, the "acquisition" from Ireland, has been the unconventional batting star for the English middle order, bailing them out of difficult situations, which also includes game(s) against B'desh. He has his own school of cricket and defines beauty in his own way, and scores runs at a good pace in his own way! Well, he does contribute more often than not, and is England's "finisher" for the world cup.

Bowling (on paper), a month ago, would have had one of the most destructive line up of pacemen. Just that, in the past month or so, most of them have been injured or completely lost touch in foreign environment. Broad was injured early in the Ashes, and is expected to recover just in time for the world cup. Bresnan and Shahzad injured themselves during the ODI series. Broad has been one of the most improved cricketers in the world over the past 2 years or so. He has got his height to help in extract bounce from the Indian tracks. He bowls stump-to-stump when needed to bottle the flow of runs, and that is when he is very tough to get away with. Bresnan is an "effort bowler". He charges in and bowls heavy deliveries, the ball may just lift a tad faster than others can. He has had a good run down under, but got injured during the course of a game. Ajmal Shahzad, the new comer has been the one who has impressed me the most. He is good on pace, and can reverse the ball quite well.A very good find in the recent past for the English team, and it is probable that he might play games ahead of Bresnan, or any other injured players. The counter argument - Bresnan can bat better than Shahzad.

The only fit pace bowler who finds himself on the world cup squad - Jimmy Andersen. He missed the first 3 games of the ODI series vs Aus, returned to get England the much needed win to stop the trot, bowled well in that game and in the next (5th ODI) and completely lost his rhythm in the 6th game. He leaked a massive 91 runs in his 10 overs, in a game where England failed to defend 333! So, his consistency is a concern. Indian conditions won't be allowing much swing to him, so, he might have to be impeccably accurate with his line and length to be a trouble-maker with the ball.

Spin - Swann is England's mainstay spinner, but again, he is injured! If fit, he will be England's main weapon in the middle and slog overs. Swann can drift, spin big and vary the pace without giving the batsmen much clue. He has spun wonders on English soil, surely he will be a menace on Indian soil? I guess so. The back-up spinner is Michael Yardy, who has been pretty effective with his left arm tweakers. he strangles the batsmen for runs, to get under their skin. A product of modern day cricket. There is Tredwell in the squad too, but I'm not sure how much he will be used in the games that matter. In basketball lingo, he will "play the garbage minutes". Any opening for an all-rounder spot will be rather filled by Luke Wright, who has a reputation of being a hard hitter. He can also bowl at > 135kph, but for some reason I've not seen him bowl that often. Body problems? Or lack of requirement (with 3 or 4 pacers already)? For sure, Collingwood is going to be preferred ahead of any other part-timers, him being effective and experienced. His off-cutters with occasional true medium pace will be quite an irritation to deal with for the batsmen during the middle overs.

Batting and bowling apart, England's best skill is their fielding. Their oldest player, Collingwood, is their best fielder. They save atleast 20-30 runs a game with their skills on the field. This will be a major advantage, given that in the subcontinent the fielders will have to help out their bowlers to put a lid on the scoring rate, which is likely to be high in most games.

England will have to be pretty effective with their bowling in the world cup. Their bowlers are not yet in the grove to perform with match-winning efforts. The only ones who looked like they can play well, figuratively and cricket-wise, are either not in the squad (Finn, Woakes) or also injured (Tremlett).

England play Pakistan, Nederlands, India, Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies. Interesting trend out there, right? But, England might have to face a situation where they have lost 3 of their first 5 league games before traveling to Bangladesh and facing WI in their last league game, both of which can be tricky. B'desh have been building a fortress at their home, and WI might want to make a push to claim a QF berth. They know their friendly neighbours Nederlands and Ireland well, and will have their easiest games against them, while the host, India, will be their toughest opponent, having lost to them 5-0 in their last bilateral ODI series in India not so long ago.

England have won the Ashes, a trophy which means a great deal to their history. But, if at all they want to etch their names in the history of ODI cricket, there is a lot of home work to do in very little time. Personally, I don't see England deserving to go beyond the QF stage in this pitiable form. They will either have to be lucky in their QF match-up, or, be re-born into a new star force to prove me wrong and make me eat my words for breakfast! They have the squad, many of whom are not ready as of yet.

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