England, at home, the team to beat

Considering that England is set to play in its own conditions, it is one of the biggest title contenders. The only thing it is yet to master, perhaps, is crossing the final hurdle.

Ben Stokes, the all-rounder, has given a good account of himself in the Indian Premier League; his mastery of limited-overs batting and bowling skills augurs well for England during the ICC Champions Trophy.   -  Getty Images

After England’s embarrassing exit from the 2015 ICC World Cup, Peter Moores, the then coach, had said of his team’s seemingly gormless performance: “We’ll have to look at the data.”

ICC Champions Trophy schedule

Today, the data informs us of England’s mastery of the One-Day International (ODI) format. The team has put up strong performances against every opponent since that World Cup ignominy, which was perhaps a cathartic moment that forced an overhaul of England’s approach to limited-overs cricket.

Since then, England has won most ODI contests, and its reversals against South Africa and India were not one-sided. It has also shown an inclination to grapple with and thrive in different playing condition to its own in limited-overs cricket. This is evident in its run to the final of the World Twenty20 in 2016 and an ODI series win in Bangladesh the same year — a creditworthy feat considering teams such as India, Pakistan and South Africa have failed to break that fortress.

READ: Bangladesh, a minnow no more

The key members of England’s limited-overs squad are in good form. Joe Root has been prolific in the ongoing List A season for Yorkshire, and for England. He was the leading run-scorer for his team in the ODI series against West Indies in March, and this month he kept up his good form against Ireland. Ben Stokes, the all-rounder, and Chris Woakes, the seamer, have given a good account of themselves in the Indian Premier League; their mastery of limited-overs batting and bowling skills augurs well for England as they are likely to be handy in similar demanding moments during the ICC Champions Trophy. Stokes shone with bat and ball for Rising Pune Supergiant, his match-winning century against Gujarat Lions on May 1 underlining his potential. Woakes’ tally of 17 wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders proved his expertise with the white ball.

Eoin Morgan, the captain, is also in good nick. He scored a match-winning century against West Indies, featured in three IPL matches — though with mediocre returns — and then scored a half-century against Ireland at Lord’s. With the attacking Sam Billings also in good form for Delhi Daredevils and Kent, the middle-order seems to be in good hands.

Billings is one of a number of limited-overs specialists England has unearthed in the last two years. The opener, Jason Roy, can tear apart any bowling attack at a mind-boggling rate, while David Willey possesses a host of tricks up his sleeve for effective death-overs bowling. A slightly more experienced player, Jos Buttler, the wicketkeeper, is another specialist who is known for his blitzkriegs. Buttler’s 46-ball century in the United Arab Emirates in 2015 is the fastest by an English player.

Big Ben ready to strike

In contrast to the World Cup, England strung together effective team performances in the World Twenty20 in India last year. Root scored the bulk of the runs in a run-heavy tournament, and the bowling attack, led by Willey, was characterised by its guile and accuracy. If isolated matches are not the ideal indicators of a team’s potential to perform well in big tournaments, England’s consistency in the World Twenty20 has put to bed the doubts about its capabilities to win the upcoming Champions Trophy.

Through its journey in limited-overs cricket in the last two years, England’s change in attitude is palpable. It seems to possess the blatant ruthlessness and the propensity to attack; it is a mindset compatible with the fast and muscular game that limited-overs cricket is today.

Considering that England is set to play in its own conditions, it is one of the biggest title contenders. The only thing it is yet to master, perhaps, is crossing the final hurdle. In the 2013 Champions Trophy, it faltered against India, and in the World Twenty20 last year, it lost against West Indies. It will hope to be third time lucky next month.

The squad

Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, , Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.

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