Burns Eye View

How England Can End World Cup Misery in 2019

England’s cricketers can join the country’s footballing and rugby heroes if they become World Cup winners in 2019. As host nation, they have a golden opportunity to leave an indelible imprint on the English sporting landscape, and at the same time, inspire a whole new generation of players and spectators.

The key is being able to perform under pressure, with big expectation, as the host country. Playing Conditions and experience will be in their favour plus the vagaries of the British weather may make the tournament very challenging for their opposition from around the world. England will never have a better chance than they did in 1975 and 1979, when they reached the semi finals (1979 before being bowled out by Australia’s Gary Gilmore at Headingley) and the Final when they lost to West Indies at Lord’s. More specifically they were gunned down by Viv Richards and Collins King with the bat, before Joel Garner destroyed the host country’s middle order with a devastating spell of top quality fast bowling.

In 2019, England will hope to have a settled team, going into the tournament with the momentum from winning series home and away in previous years. This may prove impossible if the past winter’s sojourn to Australia and New Zealand is a barometer for the team’s evolution. Fundamentally, England has been outplayed by Australia and look like they may be struggling to beat New Zealand in the current series too. It does not augur well for the team’s desire to go into the the ICC 2019 Cricket World Cup as tournament favourites.

So what needs to happen to the current team for it to evolve into possible world champions?

The batsmen must deliver more often. And, England needs to find wicket-taking bowlers to dismiss the high quality batsmen who can take the game away from them, such as David Warner, Kane Williamson, or AB De Villiers. Unless the bowling attack has a cutting-edge, containment will not be enough to beat the best teams in the world.

The big issue that I see developing is the performance with the bat of captain Eoin Morgan, put simply, he is not consistent enough to bat in the top four. He is a five, or probably a number 6, in my opinion. I rate his captaincy on the field, and his impressive composure in front of the media, but his primary role is to make big runs, and I do not think he has ever accomplished this on a consistent enough basis to be regarded as a top four batsman in ODI cricket.

Ben Stokes must not be wasted in the lower middle order - he must be in the top five, and probably at four in my team. Jos Buttler should be in at 5, or possibly 6, with 7 being the absolute lowest position he should be coming in at. You want your most dynamic players batting against as many balls as possible when the hardness of the ball has gone and once the so-called lesser bowlers are into the bowling attack. This means that Captain Morgan may need to be more flexible about where he bats himself in the order.

If Moeen Ali plays, then he is a useful lower middle-order batsman along with Adil Rashid. I like the idea of England having a twin-spin bowling attack as it offers a wicket-taking threat right up until the death of the innings. Plus the change of pace that spinners offer a captain means that the bowling strategy can be varied according to which batsmen comes to the crease. With Joe Root also offering some useful off-spin too, England will have plenty of bowling options for the middle overs as well as ‘the death’ overs.

The key to England’s success will be the unearthing of a top quality pair of opening bowlers. Could it be Anderson and Broad? Why not? Or will a young bowler like Reece Topley who re-emerges from the wilderness and puts two injury-ravaged years behind him to become the unlikely hero like Sir Geoff Hurst was in 1966 when he replaced the world-class Jimmy Greaves in the latter stages of the tournament after Greaves suffered an ankle injury.

Or, can David Wiley improve sufficiently with the ball to add more robustness to his offer us a genuine all-rounder who can strike the best bowlers out of the ground whether it be as a top order batsmen or at ‘the death’?

My wish is for Alex Hales to open the batting and for Jonny Bairstow to bat at 4 with Jason Roy given a licence up front to destroy the opposition in the power play overs. With Joe Root at 3 to play the major innings, I reckon England will have enough firepower in the middle order if they can get good starts on a regular basis. The key is the performance of Root if the openers do not go on to make a big score. Has Root got it in him to become a Virat Kohli in ODI’s? I think so, and I sincerely hope so.

With Chris Woakes coming in at 8, England will have one of the best all-rounders in world cricket at their disposal providing he is fully fit in 2019.

My wish is that Eoin Morgan can become more consistent as a batsman, but if he can’t, he may need to step aside in due course. However, if he does, England cannot afford for him to do this (forced or not) and disprupt their plans going into the tournament so late on that it causes disarray in their team like it did in the last World Cup when Alastair Cook was bizarrely persevered with despite having an ordinary record in ODI’s and it seems the selectors were so desperate for him to do well, that he was effectively selected in Sri Lanka seemingly by default (prior to the World Cup) just to prove that the original decision to have him as captain was given the best chance of working out well. It was selectorial madness in my view.

So the key in the next 15 months will be finding two top quality opening bowlers, and ensuring Eoin Morgan finds consistent top form.

Can Morgan do it? I sincerely hope so because his leadership of the one day team has been transformational up to this point.

Neil Burns


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