Electric England: The World Cup favourite

After the annihilation of Australia in the ODI series, the message to the rest of the world is that to underestimate the current England team is to make a huge mistake.

The team to beat: After thumping Australia in the five-match ODI series, next up for England is India.   -  AFP

The England One-Day International team is playing some extraordinary cricket indeed. The manner in which it thumped Australia in the five-match series is an eye-opener for all those who have been thinking that it is not a serious contender for the ICC World Cup next year. Make no mistake, England is a serious challenger and, in fact, the favourite to win the cup. Recent history is with the side, too, as the last two cups were won by the host team and, since next year’s championship is being played on home soil, it could very well go England’s way.

The team’s surge after the disastrous exit at the league stage in Australia in 2015 has been nothing short of phenomenal, and if the Englishmen are honest, they will give a great deal of credit for that to Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand team that toured England a few months after that loss in Australia. McCullum’s New Zealand was playing a fearless brand of cricket that was hugely exciting. It was breathtaking stuff as the team tried to hit as many boundaries and sixes as possible every over. England had made some changes to its squad and was now looking to pick One-Day specialists rather than just Test players. The emphasis was laid on skill and athletic ability as well where it was recognised that every run was vital and every run saved could make the difference between winning and losing. This meant that a pair of the senior new-ball bowlers like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad who are not as agile in the field were given their marching orders and younger, fast-moving bowlers were brought into the side. Eoin Morgan, the skipper, quickly realised that while Anderson and Broad were deadly in white clothes and the red ball in their hands, the white ball did not move as much as the red did and so their effectiveness as bowlers was going to be less. He brought in batsmen at the top of the order whose main job was to take the attack apart in the first 10 overs and get the team off to an electric start.

All this was good positive thinking, but it was also seeing the way the New Zealanders were enjoying their cricket that made the doughty Englishmen shed their cloak of conservativeness and begin to smash the ball and enjoy doing so. The result was that England chased down 300-plus totals that the Kiwis were putting up with ease and going on to win games. It was heady and suddenly the tide turned, and as the supporters began to see a new fresh approach and attitude, they began to crowd the grounds to encourage their team. England stumbled in the ICC Champions Trophy last year against an inspired Pakistan team and went out of the tournament, but that will only be part of the learning curve for the team. The way the squad has played after that has been super-duper, and with this total annihilation of the Aussies, the message has gone to the rest of the world that to underestimate this England team will be to make a huge mistake.

Sure, the weather in England will always play a part and could cause an upset or two, but that’s where being the home team will have the advantage. England now take on India, and while most of India wants Virat Kohli’s boys to win the five-match Test series, the team itself knows that with the World Cup next year in England, how they do in the One-Day series can be an indication of sorts for what to expect next year. The series is not likely to be one-sided as the one with the Aussies was and, yes, it’s only a three-match series, but it will set the tone nicely not only for the five Tests to follow, but also for next year’s World Cup.

Speaking of World Cups, the FIFA football World Cup is on and England, having picked a young side, is looking good there, too. While every England team in any sport is invariably hyped up by the English media, this time around the hype has been a lot more subdued and realistic about the team’s chances. This could very well work in the team’s favour as the pressure of expectations is much less than earlier World Cups.

As always, the debate about who is the best footballer in the world is centred around Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Quite frankly, just like it does not matter what you do in the Indian Premier League, it hardly matters what you do for your club teams if you can’t win a title for your country.

Ronaldo won the UEFA European Cup for Portugal a couple of years back, while Messi has not even won the Copa America for Argentina. With Argentina’s campaign sputtering along, it looks like Messi will finish his career as a great club-level player but with a pretty humbling international record. He may be a nicer guy than the flamboyant Ronaldo, but, in this case, nice boys finish last and that’s a sad way to end indeed.