Will the most open World Cup in memory serve up England’s greatest triumph?

England’s quest for the completion of an incredible year has this week reached the quarter-final stages of the World Cup. To complete the treble of Twenty20, Ashes and World Cup glory would have to be considered a year of unprecedented success, however, in order to achieve this they must first overcome Sri Lanka at fortress Premadasa.

England’s campaign thus far has been far from convincing. Defeats at the hands of associate side Ireland and the horribly out-of-form Bangladesh have called into question the fatigue-levels and mental state in the camp off the back of a busy winter, but England will know their work is far from done. They must keep in mind just how huger achievement it would be to complete this mission and that the end really is in sight. Their mentality in the bigger games has appeared committed thus far and that is the way things must remain.

England have demonstrated a major weakness against spin and the challenge of the master Muttiah Muralidaran, the famed ‘mystery-spinner’ Aganta Mendis and the in-form Tilekeratne Dilshan could well prove too much. ‘Murali’ and Mendis in particular can win this match single-handedly, couple that with the rampaging threat of Lasith Malinga and the task presents it’s own case. Though England undoubtedly boast match-winners too, it seems that Sri Lanka’s stars are far more fresh and in-form. In fact, some of England’s ‘X-Factor’ players such as Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad have already succumb to injury and left for home. Is it really possible for England to win this tournament without arguably their best one-day batsman and arguably their best one-day pace-man? The jury is very much out.

One thing is for sure, even if England do progress there is still a mountain to climb to win the tournament. With favourites South Africa the likely semi-final opponents and the prospect of the in-form Pakistan, hosts India, or reigning champions Australia waiting in the final it is clear for all to see that England are far from being crowned champions. Captain Andrew Strauss will be praying that the ‘dark-horse’ tag hanging round England’s necks at present will work in their favour as they seek some serious improvements going into these knock-out stages.

It has been a fantastic tournament so far, founded primarily upon the trials and tribulations of England’s campaign. They have been involved in arguably five of the greatest games of the tournament out of the six they have played, and have provided outstanding entertainment, if not any level of consistency. Players and fans alike will be hoping for victory this Saturday, but in truth I think the task is just too much for them. I tip Sri Lanka for victory and progression to a final against India. If this is the case then I believe India will rule triumphant on home-turf.

Whatever the outcome eventually is, it seems we are set for yet more excitement and hopefully a couple more surprises along the journey. England will hope to continue slipping under the radar and finding crucial victories from somewhere in the murky depths of the imagination, which so far they have stretched to it’s fullest extents. Perhaps only New Zealand are less favoured for glory, but Captain Strauss would be wise not to focus on this. They have one objective now and that is to win, we await to see if this is in fact achievable or whether it is more just a romantic pipe-dream.

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England’s World Cup hopes fading as fatigue kicks in?

England have today slumped to a 6-1 ODI series defeat at the hands of the old enemy Australia. This in itself is of great concern to English hopes in the build-up to the World Cup starting later this month, but perhaps of more concern is the injury list.

Strike bowler Stuart Broad hasn’t featured since the second Ashes test, and other key players Tim Bresnan, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan and Graeme Swann have all had to return home for injury treatment in the hope they will regain near full fitness in time for the World Cup. It may not seem like too sorrier situation given the praise Andy Flower has received for having assembled squads containing strength in depth in all formats of the international game. However, even England’s range of backup options have succumb to injury, the likes of Ajmal Shazhad, Chris Woakes and Ashes hero Chris Tremlett are all currently unavailable for selection.

Stuart Broad Graeme Swann South Africa v New Zealand - ICC T20 World Cup

England will be praying upon the return to fitness of these four

The lack of any real one-day form on show from England throughout the series against Australia is perhaps attributable to the injury situation and the fatigue caused by the high-pressure Ashes series that has preceded it. Captain Andrew Strauss certainly seems to think so, and to that effect has demanded a restructuring of future international tours. Strauss believes that the one-day series’ in the future should be played in build-up to the test-matches, partly as a means of preparation and then to build excitement and anticipation in the lead-up to the test-series’. I for one would tend to agree with this.

The nature of the injuries picked up by the England players throughout this series supports the pleas of Strauss. They seem to have all been stress-related injuries that have been worsened through fatigue and through the pressure that has been put upon the players to play through the pain-barrier. It is certainly arguable that these one-day series’ should be shortened in the future, particularly in light of the importance of forthcoming dates on the international calendar.

On the face of it England are once again going in to a major tournament with seemingly little hope of success. However, all faith should not yet be shot to pieces. After all, we are the side that have most recently won a major international tournament in a shorter format of the game. Yes this was the Twenty20 World Cup and not in the 50 over game but the foundations in place throughout that tournament are still present if our major injury concerns return to fitness in time.

The ICC Cricket World Cup.. Will England get their hands on the coveted trophy

In Andrew Strauss we have a natural leader and fantastic opening batsmen. He will be accompanied at the top of the order my Matt Prior, arguably one of the most improved players in world cricket over the past couple of years. In at three it seems likely that Jonathan Trott will get the nod having proved to be England’s form batsmen of the series down-under. Our middle order is packed full of experienced  and world-class batsmen in the form of Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Ian Bell. All-rounders are a key part of the one-day game and we also have them in abundance; Paul Collingwood and Michael Yardy are certainly befitting of the role, and Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad are also very handy with the bat. Finally, Broad and Swan are accompanied by James Anderson in the role of wicket-taking strike bowlers. All three are that good and should form the basis of a potent bowling attack.

All being well the afore mentioned players will have all returned to match-fitness by the time things kick-off on the sub-continent. If that’s the case then England’s dismal form in the recent series shouldn’t count for too much and we can expect a fair crack at rounding off what could yet prove to be the best year in English cricketing history.

Will England’s dynamic back-room help them complete the set?

The Post-Ashes euphoria has been inescapable over the last few days, but do England have what it takes to complete the most memorable of years? Fresh from the triumph in the Test format England will have to change tack come this Sunday as the ODI season returns. The return to the shorter format of the game begins with a match in Canberra this weekend against an Australian Prime Minister’s XI side before they take part in an ODI series and Twenty20 series in the build up to to the World Cup.

Saker is one of Flower's most valued staff members

England will hope to once again demonstrate the true magic and innovation that the current back-room staff have instilled into the national side in all formats over the last couple of years. Bowling coach David Saker has inspired a dramatic turnaround for the likes of the now ‘world-beating’ Jimmy Anderson and aided Graeme Swann’s surge to within touching distance of becoming the world’s number one Test bowler. Now signed on for three more years ,Saker, in tandem with spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed will seek to keep inspiring the bowling unit on to bigger and better things.

English batting legend and current batting coach Graham Gooch is also receiving widespread plaudits for his contribution to one of the strongest looking batting line-ups in recent history. Andrew Strauss has grown into his role as captain and opening batsman both in test cricket and ODI’s whilst his Test partner Alistair Cook has broken all sorts of records down under this winter. Cook’s achievements are all the more remarkable given the horrible form he found himself in over the British summer against Test minnows Bangladesh and the tricky seam attack of Pakistan. A dramatic turnaround in fortunes has taken him from the brink of losing his place in the squad to being named man of the series in The Ashes and re-establishing himself as the heir-apparent to the Test captaincy. Cook has spoken out about fellow Essex man Gooch’s contribution to his re-incarnation as a Test batsman, if he has been as helpful as the likes of Cook are reporting then the part he has played in England’s Ashes triumph has been invaluable. Another outspoken supporter of Gooch is Ian Bell whom, as a batsman, has flourished down-under this winter. He has attributed much of his rapid maturing process to guidance and imparting of knowledge from the national coach.

One legend to another

Perhaps the most notable turnaround in English cricket has been the increased professionalism, commitment and fitness of the side under the current regime. This is in no short part down to Richard Halsall, England fielding coach and incidentally my former sports teacher. I myself can speak personally about how highly I and many of my friends regarded ‘Mr.Halsall’ as a teacher, a mentor and a role model. He always had a unique knack for instilling knowledge and advice into student’s heads, a skill that must have served him brilliantly in his current job. Experts and pundits in the wake of The Ashes have described England as the best fielding side in the world and the best in their history, quite a testament to the job Halsall has done thus far in his tenure.

Halsall has been credited with an innovative and successful coaching style

It is clear that the back-room team under the guidance of Head Coach Andy Flower have brought great success to England in the form of Ashes victory and in becoming World Twenty20 champions in 2010. ODI results have also improved under their guidance in recent times and expectations are racing in the build-up to the World Cup on the Sub-Continent. The current set-up has seen a new era of positivity and versatility at the very highest levels, with the unconventional players such as Eoin Morgan and the most conventional such as Strauss given license to take protagonist roles in the set-up. Such flexibility places England firmly amongst the favourites to start 2011 in the same vein as 2010.

Will England triumph again in One-Day cricket?