Will it be different this time for England at the World Cup?
Captain says hosts will have to embrace their status as favourites. But there are plenty of big-hitting teams waiting to hand out humiliation
London — England launch the World Cup on Thursday as favourites to bludgeon their way to victory for the first time but will fear a Virat Kohli-inspired India and a hungry Australia.
England have never won the tournament, with the last of their three losing appearances in the final coming in 1992. But there is a growing sense their current crop of players can end 45 years of pain.
Boasting a plethora of big-hitting white-ball specialists, England are the top-ranked team in the 50-over game, while Kohli’s India are also packed with superstars who have honed their skills in the Indian Premier League.
Reigning champions Australia, who won their fifth title in 2015, are boosted by the return of star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner after both served bans for their role in a ball-tampering scandal.
New Zealand and SA will also harbour hopes of World Cup glory in the 10-team tournament, in which each side will play all the others to decide the semifinalists. Former winners Pakistan can never be ruled out and West Indies, featuring self-styled “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle for possibly the final time in ODIs, will fancy their chances of a first World Cup triumph since 1979.
In an age in which astonishing run-scoring feats have become commonplace, it may be the hard-pressed bowlers who determine the destiny of this year’s title, depending on the conditions for the event, which runs from May 30 until July 14.
Top-ranked England will undoubtedly start the tournament as favourites. They were, however, strongly fancied to win the 2017 50-over Champions Trophy, which they hosted, only to lose to eventual winners Pakistan in the semifinals.
England captain Eoin Morgan has urged his side to enjoy the pressure and expectation that comes with opening the World Cup at home. “Everyone is going to feel that anticipation and excitement of playing the first game and it will be different than any other day and I will be encouraging guys to embrace it,” he said.
A limp first-round departure at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the catalyst for a transformation in England’s white-ball game based on aggressive batting, as exemplified by Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.
England are even threatening to smash the 500-run barrier for the first time in an ODI innings, having set a record total of 481/6 against Australia in Nottingham in 2018. And their attack now has an extra threat in recently qualified Barbados-born fast bowler Jofra Archer.
India upset the odds to beat West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final at Lord’s under the captaincy of Kapil Dev and now boast another inspirational leader in star batsman Kohli.
Australia want to switch attention back onto the pitch after the “sandpapergate” scandal, which led to year-long bans for Smith and Warner. Former Australia captain Smith is braced for barracking from the crowds at the tournament.
Smith made 116 against England as Australia beat the World Cup hosts and favourites by 12 runs in a warm-up game in which he was booed and called a “cheat”.
“It’s water off a duck’s back and it doesn’t bother me. I try to black it out,” said a focused Smith. “They call it ‘white noise’. When I’m out in the middle I don’t pay attention to the crowd or what they’re saying.”
SA will be desperate to shed their tag of World Cup chokers, while consistent New Zealand, losing finalists in 2015 and repeatedly in the last four, boast a clutch of match-winners: batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor as well as seamers Tim Southee and Trent Boult.
The 10-team tournament in England and Wales does not feature any non-Test nations, meaning there is no chance of the seismic shocks pulled off by teams including Zimbabwe and Ireland at previous editions. And the all-plays-all format guarantees nine pay-days each for the world’s leading cricket nations.