England’s CWC19 Should Go Down As A Success Even If They Go Out At The Semi-finals
To understand the relationship between the English and their sports teams, you can do no better than watch the Eddie the Eagle film.
The concept of glorious failure is one few countries do better. We revel in it. Our penchant for self-deprecation is what has held us together over the last few tumultuous years. Over in another sport, England – both men and women, it seems – have developed a fortunate knack for losing semi-finals to pander to that reassuring sense of perpetual disappointment.
Why then, in 2019, have we become obsessed with the idea of England winning the Cricket World Cup?
The obvious answer is their status as the number one ODI side in the world, yet over the last month, of the likely semi-finalists, India and Australia have been at least as good. On their day, and when their dependency on Kane Williamson comes to fruition, so are New Zealand.
The journey Eoin Morgan’s side have been on in ODI cricket since 2015 is remarkable.
The skipper has spoken openly about the lows of that infamous thrashing in Wellington. Tempting though it is to record their hammering by the Black Caps as a day-nighter defeat, it barely entered the ‘night’ phase of the game, so comprehensive was their humiliation.
The shell-shock of that occasion did not only affect Morgan, Steven Finn suffering some of the biggest consequences, at least career-wise, after conceding 49 runs off two overs.
It’s no secret either that it proved a turning point for the ECB. The accusations that the 50-over format was not being taken seriously enough date back decades not just years, but something changed in the southern hemisphere.
The decision to go on the front foot has paid dividends and, in line with that, so did the equally bold move of retaining Morgan as captain.
Whatever happens from this point on, England have reached the last four of the tournament for the first time since 1992. That undoubtedly represents progress.
The 2019 World Cup itself has not always been deemed a success. The second week was washed out, while critics have also derided the round-robin format for being too predictable in favouring the big four. The flip side of that is that it has rewarded the most deserving semi-finalists, who have not been reliant on the luck of the draw.
The approach to ODI cricket in England needed to change and it has. A top five of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, and Morgan is arguably the best in the world.
Even if progression to the semi-finals may have come in part thanks to a few millimeters of the fingertips of Mark Wood, England ought to have silenced many of their doubters already, whether they get to the final or not.
Bairstow himself is emblematic of that, hitting his second century in as many games in response to his feud with Michael Vaughan.
In truth, the 29-year-old may have had a point when he lamented something in the collective English psyche which once again, was ready to pounce when his team-mates only made 305 at Durham.
As it turned out, it was enough to beat New Zealand by an emphatic 119 runs.
The thirst for blood has abated once again in light of that result, but it could needlessly return if England exit against likely opponents India at Edgbaston.