Expect Fireworks As England And India Battle It Out For World Cup Favourites Tag
Following the heartbreak of England’s semi-final exit at the World Cup in Russia, it now falls on the nation’s cricketers to extend the summer of sport’s feel good factor.
And they have their toughest possible challenge in a bid to carry on the impressive form that has seen them rise to top spot in the One Day International world rankings.
Ahead of their own World Cup - which they host exactly a year from now - England are already installed as favourites to lift their first ever 50-over crown.
It will be 44 years of hurt by the time Eoin Morgan’s side begin their campaign on May 30 against South Africa at the Oval. Since the competition’s inauguration in 1975, the Three Lions’ best has been three runner-up finishes.
But their form since the dreadful showing of the last one three years ago in New Zealand and Australia, dictates they are rightly being discussed as the world’s leading nation in this format of the game.
What a turnaround this side has undergone. It’s not stretching it to say that Morgan’s men have changed the modern game dramatically and are playing cricket never seen before. It’s an identity that the other nations are desperate to follow. Runs, runs and more runs - then records, records and more records.
But the closest side to them right now, India, lie in wait. Starting today at Trent Bridge, the first and second-ranked sides in the world will contest a series that, come the end, will identify who is rightly considered favourites for the 2019 title. Both sides are well clear - in ranking points and in how they’re playing the game - of third-placed South Africa and the rest.
India have followed England’s 50-over all-out attack blueprint and have world class players capable of knocking England back.
The winner will go clear as number one in the world. For India, it will be a true marker of their own hopes of regaining the title of world champions from Australia.
Their long summer in England, with a five-match Test series to follow, has begun well with two one-sided victories claiming a 2-1 series win in the Twenty20 format.
Throughout Virat Kohli’s side there is danger for England. Kohli himself is the world’s best batsman across the formats. An aggressive leader with a win-at-all-costs mentality, he will be as desperate as ever to put England in their place after previous toils in the country. Kohli ordinarily is a tough beast to tame, but with a point to prove it’s vital England contain his threat.
Beyond Kohli, Rohit Sharma is one of the best strikers of a ball in the game and whacked a ton in the final T20 game. KL Rahul also reaches three figures in that series - with no England player achieving the feat.
In Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have one of the best death bowlers in the business and a fearless competitor, while England’s ongoing battle against spin faces its toughest test yet with the mystery of left-armer Kuldeep Yadav - should he play - and wristy Yuzvendra Chahal.
With the experience of MS Dhoni and the big hitting Hardik Pandya, every wicket that falls will only bring England a new threat.
India are arguably favourites, buoyed as they will be by T20 success.
But. England have won a remarkable 46 of 69 ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. They have match-winners everywhere you look in Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and whoever gets the nod out of Joe Root or Alex Hales, while Adil Rashid is becoming a major world force in this format, at last. Ben Stokes is back, too, the leading all-rounder in the world with his own points to prove. They also slayed fierce rivals Australia 5-0 last time out.
It promises to be a run-rest and one not to be missed.
Expect fireworks from the off - but this observer thinks England’s World Cup disappointment will not quite be overcome here with India to take the series 2-1.
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