With home advantage and the Number One world ranking, England’s cricketers (2019 vintage) know that there is a certain amount of pressure on them to emulate the footballers of 1966 and the rugby team of 2003, and win the World Cup. The tournament, which gets underway today at the Oval, offers a real opportunity for Eoin Morgan and his teammates to put the finishing touches on a journey that has seen the one-day side rise from the embarrassment of 2015, when they failed to progress from the group stages.
Arguably, the omens aren’t great for Trevor Bayliss’ men. The last time England hosted the tournament, in 1999, they were also eliminated before the knockout stage. However, this time, the side contains a mix of experience (Morgan has 222 ODIs to his name) and thrilling potential (Jofra Archer, who made his international debut this month, is considered to be one of the most dangerous fast bowlers in the competition). This is an England side which has the ability to win it all – now, it’s incumbent upon them to go out and do it.
In this feature, we will look at the teams most likely to lift the trophy and the best bets for the competition, as well as an at-a-glance prediction on the tournament’s first match: England vs South Africa, which gets underway in London this morning.
Can England really do it this time?
Any cricket fan over the age of 30 can at the very least remember a time when England’s ODI team were better suited to the Hall of Shame than the pantheon of genuine contenders. Indeed, the last time they so much as contested a final was 1992, and it’s worth remembering that there are only 12 test-playing nations; back in 1999, there were only eight, and so the country that invented the game has spent a long time being humbled by the nations to which they exported it. What would make this World Cup any different?
Well, as we’ve covered, this England team is ranked #1 in the world. In the most recent series, they brushed aside Pakistan 4-0, and they have a winning record against their closest rivals India and Australia over the past year. It also helps that in Jos Buttler, they have a batsman of such explosive power that he can hit a six off pretty much any delivery. With Archer showing the potential to be equally dangerous with the ball, England can put on large totals and do serious damage to any top order.
The biggest danger to England would have to be England. With several years of hurt behind them, the closer they get to the title the greater the pressure is likely to get. However, at 2/1 with William Hill (ahead of India at 10/3 and Australia on 7/2), they are decent value to lift their first World Cup.
Na na na na na na na na BATS-MAN!
One of the key outright bets for any World Cup centres around the player who ends the competition as top batsman – which means the one who ends the tournament with the most runs. What’s key to remember here is that this won’t necessarily be the player with the highest innings totals; Chris Gayle is one of the best one-day batsmen out there, but the West Indies will have their work cut out to make the semi-finals, so he’s likely to have less time to accumulate runs than a player who is there to the end.
There are plenty of England players in contention for this honour – openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy among them, with Buttler further down due to his position in the order – but the smartest money might be on India’s Virat Kohli. His team are a sound bet to make the final and could well win it all. Additionally, Kohli is an opening batsman who piles runs on with little mercy for the opposition. At 15/2 with Betway, there’s a lot to be said for a punt on the Indian captain, particularly as his performance in the knockouts last time out left him with ghosts to exorcise. His last two World Cup innings counted for 3 and 1 on the scorecard, so he has unfinished business as he seeks to right the wrongs of 2015.
First things first – the opening match
England get things underway this morning with a contest against dangerous underdogs South Africa. Not fancied to win the tournament, the Proteas will nonetheless see it as a disappointment should they fail to finish in the top four and secure a semi-final place. They’ll also see it as a matter of duty to take on the hosts and favourites and spoil the party atmosphere that will envelop the Oval this morning. However, there is a fair chance that what they want and what they get will be two very different things.
The weather in and around London has been mild and even a little damp in the run-up and, although the match is set to get underway with a backdrop of sunshine, the pitch is unlikely to be a friend to the fast bowlers. Add to this the fact that Dale Steyn, the visitors’ wily paceman and talisman, has not been able to shake off a shoulder problem in time to play, and it’s hard to look past an opening victory for England. They’re good value with Betfair at 4/6, and will be looking to put on a show for the crowd in their first home World Cup in 20 years.