England Look To Avoid Familiar Jitters, As You Are The Final Blocks > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - England look to avoid familiar jitters as they fix final blocks
If you didn't know it when you woke up this morning, you probably realised when you saw the solar red bunting adorning the neighbour's windows. February 19 marks 100 days until the start of the 50-over World Cup, a day celebrated confusingly every four years but, since 2011, has become a red-letter affair for photo opportunities and lukewarm social media posts. Today also brings with it another regular World Cup milestone - 99 days until England hit the panic button.
Whether down to planetary alignments or simply indulging that very English voice in their heads which wonders "hold on - what if this doesn't work?", England's World Cup campaigns have been derailed quite spectacularly by indecision on the eve of tournaments. Even for a nation with a rich history of errors, 2015's World Cup was a classic of the genre. Alastair Cook had been binned off altogether months earlier, but further sheggery was in the offing.
All the build-up for the curtain-raiser against hosts and eventual winners Australia featured James Taylor batting at number three and Chris Woakes opening the bowling. Yet, seemingly on a whim, it was decided Gary Ballance would bat three instead - Taylor shunted into the depths of the middle order - while Woakes was taken off new ball duty to reunite Anderson and Broad. England crashed out spectacularly. A number of that squad - Ballance, Broad and Anderson included - have since been banished from England's ODI thinking.
Taylor's recollections of that period are eye-opening and entertaining. He was a batsman whose strengths lay in the clarity of his plans and yet, here he was, being told to scrap them altogether ahead of the most important international assignment of his career. The management informed him of a change of different direction. He was confused yet accepted the orders. He laughs when retelling the story now while maintaining the furrowed brow that no doubt greeted the audible when it was called at the time.
Perhaps, it bodes well that someone scorned by such shots to the foot is now an England selector. In any meetings leading up to this World Cup, Taylor's words as a recent former player within the inner selection sanctum should be heeded. Not that others around him will have an itch to mess with what, so far, has been a winning formula.
Eoin Morgan's straight-shooting and Trevor Bayliss' "friend first, boss second" approach has created an entertaining blend to shoot England to the top of ODI rankings, while setting records and taking 50-over cricket to new heights. There is plenty over the last four years of established success to suggest the blueprint for World Cup glory is already in place.
But while it may seem unlikely the plans of Morgs' men will go awry, this uncomplicated side do have a history of getting last-minute jitters, such as in 2017 when they dropped Adil Rashid for the first match of the ICC Champions Trophy. News of Paul Farbrace abandoning the project next month might have sent a recognisable shiver down the spine of England fans. Is it happening again?
Probably not, or at least not yet anyway. But as much as this is a team that marches on its camaraderie and thrives on the defined roles given to each individual, there are spots up for grabs and certainly personnel who need to use this series against Windies wisely. These are the final five ODIs before a preliminary World Cup squad needs to be selected. And if there is an area where spots in the final 15 should not be taken for granted, it is in the fast bowling.
Only Woakes and Liam Plunkett are assured of their places in the starting XI because of new and old ball expertise, respectively. But the seemingly regular flaring up of Woakes' knee issues suggest England will have to manage his workload through the group stages, in which their first four matches span 16 days and their last four just 13. Qualification for the latter stages could do with being sorted out as soon as possible.
That will bring Tom Curran into play. An impressive Big Bash League with Sydney Sixers underlined the 23-year-old's credentials as a white-ball bowler. There are not many better in the world when assessing effectiveness early and late on in an innings, but it is his desire to do the dirty jobs, such as bowling at the death, that at the very least makes him a must-have in the squad. With experimentation likely over the next month, he will have the opportunity to further enhance his reputation.
Curran's strength at the death is why he probably won't be dragged into the bunfight that could take place when deciding upon the out-and-out quicks. David Willey may have batting on his side, but an average of 18 and one fifty from 25 innings out of a possible 42 suggests it has not been relied on much at all. Of greater concern is his average of less than a wicket in his last 20 ODIs when his main selling point is an ability to swing the new white Kookaburra. His left-arm angle and the decision to park Sam Curran as a viable alternative, for now, helps him. But the spectre of Jofra Archer looms large as someone who can fulfill Willey's all-round and do so while bowling above 90mph.
The prospect of Archer brings us neatly onto Mark Wood. He got his groove back in the final Test at St Lucia but, like Woakes, there will be questions over his ability to partake in the full programme of group games. Olly Stone's partial stress fracture of the back has given the Durham quick breathing space, but his greatest battle will be with his own body. The confidence in the ankle looks as strong as ever, but Wood's gutsy spirit will only do so much for its structural integrity. Eileen Drewery, he is not.
Batting for the most part is settled, but a score of note for Alex Hales could further cement his spot as a first alternate. Meanwhile, out in the United Arab Emirates, James Vince will be hoping a few big scores for the Multan Sultans will remind selectors that there are few more devastating English batsmen in home conditions. Currently, Joe Denly is the utility batsman of choice.
It is telling that even while talking through other options, the same names reappear. No surprise, perhaps, given a lot of what Morgan has built has centred around loyalty. All the men in possession need to ensure they do not test that loyalty in the months ahead.
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