CARDIFF, WALES – JUNE 23: Jos Buttler of England plays a shot during the T20 International Series First T20I match between England and Sri Lanka at Sophia Gardens on June 23, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
ENGLAND hope to ride their formidable batting firepower to a second successive World Cup title but if India’s crafty spinners and sprightly pace attack can fully exploit home conditions the country’s cricket-mad fans could have something to celebrate.
Since failing to make it out of the pool phase at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, England have been transformed into limited-overs juggernauts, winning the 2019 title and last year’s Twenty20 World Cup.
They have been blessed with a steady supply of exciting match-winners, which has encouraged them to try to redefine test cricket with their relentless, aggressive approach to the game.
Illustrating the embarrassment of riches at their disposal, England axed world-class opener Jason Roy from their World Cup squad to accommodate Harry Brook, who at 24 has already been marked out as a superstar in the making.
Eight members of their triumphant 2019 squad are back to help England try to become only the third team to defend the ODI World Cup title after West Indies and Australia.
The group includes Jos Buttler, who seems immune to the pressure of a captaincy which has weighed heavily on others.
Star all-rounder Ben Stokes has come out of ODI ‘retirement’ and is back in the squad, albeit purely as a batter, and has picked up where he left off by belting 182 against New Zealand last month – the highest ODI score by an English batter.
But while England’s only batting headache is who to leave out, their bowling stocks look much thinner, with Jofra Archer missing through injury and lingering concerns about fellow speedster Mark Wood’s fitness.
India have no such concerns and skipper Rohit Sharma has all his frontline players back and raring to go as the hosts look to repeat their 2011 success on home soil.
Rohit and Shubman Gill have formed a profitable opening partnership, with the inimitable Virat Kohli waiting in the wings at number three, and India also have players like Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav who can come up with a match-winning innings.
Their star-studded batting lineup is backed by a speedy pace attack led by Jasprit Bumrah, with left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav likely to provide the X-factor.
In terms of buildup India could not have asked for better, winning the Asia Cup last month and beating Australia 2-1 in a subsequent ODI home series.
The Australians no longer carry the same swagger that saw them win four of the last six World Cups, but it would be a mistake to write off the five-time champions despite their injury woes.
Skipper Pat Cummins and batting mainstay Steve Smith are among those returning from injury layoffs, while opener Travis Head is set to miss the early matches having fractured his hand in South Africa last month.
However, Australia will take heart from Mitchell Marsh’s red-hot form at the top of the order, as well as Marnus Labuschagne’s revival just ahead of the showpiece event.
They also possess an enviable collection of all-rounders in Marsh, Cameron Green, Marcus Stoinis, Sean Abbott and Glenn Maxwell, which could come in handy in India.
Outside the top three, Pakistan’s ‘cornered tigers’ have been jolted by the injury to pace spearhead Naseem Shah but Babar Azam’s side are capable of causing upsets.
Also in the reckoning are New Zealand, who fell agonisingly short of the title four years ago after the tied final at Lord’s saw England crowned champions via a now-scrapped boundary countback rule.
Kane Williamson returns to aid New Zealand’s quest for that elusive trophy but injuries to several key players, including the skipper himself, will temper their expectations in India.
With West Indies cricket in a state of decline, the twice champions will miss the World Cup for the first time after failing to come through the qualifiers.
The 10-team tournament will be played across 10 venues culminating in the November 19 final at the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.