The quick answer to that is no. Even with home advantage, partisan crowds and a meaningful warm up against New Zealand, this England team isn’t cut out to worry the best ODI teams.
The problems with the England ODI set up are well documented: an imbalanced batting line up, no Kevin Pietersen and an over-reliance on seam bowling.
With a new ball at each end, England have reverted to ‘proper’ stroke-players at the top of the order. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but with Alistair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott all slowly accumulating and aiming to keep wickets in hand, it puts extraordinary pressure on a talented middle order to come in and start blasting from ball one. That’s a tough ask, and more often than not, England tie themselves in knots trying to set a score… in fact, England generally look a better side chasing when the pace of the innings is dictated by the run rate.
Trot seems to be the man who gets the stick for this, but I’ve no idea why. Batting at 3 he tends to score a run a ball and averages over 50 – that’s perfect. The problem lies at the top where Bell and Cook look lovely but scare no one. With Cook impressive as captain, I’d jettison Bell for a biffer, which is the route England were heading until they realised that Craig Kieswetter wasn’t up to being an international batsman. The problem is also compounded by a big hole at number 4.
Kevin Pietersen IS the England batsman that the other countries fear. But he’s currently injured and getting old, so this tournament – the least sexy ICC tournament – is a great chance for a new generation of players to cut their teeth.
England have filled KP’s 4 slot with Joe Root, another great cricketer, but another accumulator in the mould of Cook, Bell and Trott. Bar owners in cricket grounds love it when this top 4 are batting. The only potential for excitement comes when the inconsistent Ravi Bopara, the enigma Eoin Morgan and big-hitting Jos Buttler get to the crease, but by the time they’re at the crease the run rate is so poor they have no time to settle before tee-ing off.
I’d drop Bell completely (in fact I’d drop him from the England set up all together, he’s the new Graeme Hick, but that’s for a another blog), despite him top scoring against Australia, and replace him with Jonny Bairstow or a previous England reject Phil Mustard. The Colonel opens for Durham and when he gets going is one of the best in the business to watch and Bairstow can give it a whack too… that should add some balance to the top order.
For a tournament in England, there isn’t really such a thing as being over reliant on seam bowling. With Morkel and Steyn injured, England have the best seam attack in the tournament – not individuals, but a great unit. What they struggle with is bowling at the death when the opposition is getting after them and the ball is getting old. If they can find a way to bowl like Lasith Malinga, England would start troubling the best teams… although I’m sure all teams would fancy having a Malinga.
As it stands, if England put enough runs on the board they can win games with this bowling attack, but I don’t think they’ll get the runs on the board.
With only the top 2 from each group going through to the semi final, England’s comprehensive victory over Australia coupled with the narrow New Zealand v Sri Lanka result means they have a decent chance of qualifying.
Sri Lanka are a class side but looked very average against the Kiwis, and if England can negate Malinga, they should come away with a win. New Zealand have had a great preparation to the tournament having been in England for 6 weeks or so and the way they are playing marks them out as one of the favourites for the tournament. I’d expect the Kiwis to top the group unbeaten and England to come out second.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Pakistan all but gone, India looked great beating South Africa and I’d back the West Indies to come out of that group with them, especially given South Africa’s lengthy injury list.
I just can’t see England beating any of these three teams, never mind beating two of them on the bounce. Even in English conditions. It’s tough to know how much anyone outside of the squad really care though. The Champions Trophy has never caught fire in England (although winning it might change that!) and no one will be sacked if we go out at the group stage… not when everyone is looking at back to back Ashes series coming over the horizon.