Bengaluru, May 1: The 12th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup is starting May 30 which is less than a month away from now. England are playing host to the tournament along with Wales and it is the fifth time in History that the Three Lions are doing so after 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1999. For a change this time, the hosts, also ranked No.1 in ODIs, are being considered among the top favourites to win the trophy at the Lord's on July 14.
From the historical perspective, the sheer expectation that England will win the trophy is a big turnaround for the inventors of the game. It is not that the Englishmen have done too badly at the WC as they had made the finals thrice but since not a single time did the title landed on their lap, the team remained an underachiever in the eyes of many, just like South Africa who choked in the semi-finals no less than four times.
England's humiliating exit from the WC in Australia and New Zealand four years ago was perhaps their lowest ebb in ODI cricket. The side then was not known to have the best of ODI players even though it has a long history of playing the format and has even been a leader in T20 cricket and won a title in the same in 2010.
Some of the biggest reasons why England struggled in ODIs have been their top order's failure in accelerating the run-rate; the middle-order's weakness in granting solidity and the lower order's lack of ability to give the finishing touches to the innings. In bowling too, England had lacked bowlers who knew to pressurise the opponents while there was little reputation of its fielding unit. Overall, they had always failed to click as a team.
The English team had yet competed with the world's best in the ODIs when the format was still in its slower stage. But after they lost the final in Melbourne in 1992 to Imran Khan's Pakistan and some of their more accomplished players retired, England only fell back in the race till they vanished in the horizon.
In the next six World Cups, England were led by six different captains and the best they could do was to reach the quarter-finals in 1996 and 2011. On three occasions (1999, 2003 and 2015), they failed to cross the preliminary stage while crashed out of the Super Eight once (2007).
A major aspect of England's performance in the WCs between 1996 and 2015 is that they had beaten minnows more often than the big teams (even lost to Ireland in 2011) which made evident their vulnerability as an accomplished side.
Among the teams that England could manage to beat in the six WCs are: Netherlands (thrice); Kenya and West Indies (twice each); Canada, Scotland, Afghanistan, UAE, Namibia, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa (once each).
On the other hand, they were beaten thrice each by Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand; twice each by India and Bangladesh (twice) and once each by Pakistan and Ireland.
England forfeited their game against Zimbabwe once and tied a match with India once. Clearly, the instinct to beat big teams was missing and that saw England lasting a small distance in the big tournament.
But, England have a completely transformed side now. Be it their growing seriousness with the 50-over format and the rise in power-hitting propelled by the T20 culture, England have brought a sea change in their ODI game. The lazy and lackadaisical approaches are a thing of the past for the Englishmen now and they have explosive lads who can be merciless on their days.
Since their exit from the 2015 WC, the Three Lions have won 53 of 82 matches (success rate of 64.63 per cent) and lost only 23 while six were inconclusive. They have beaten all major teams in this period, including a 5-0 whitewash of Australia. They have explosive openers and middle-order batsmen who deal with power besides a bowling line-up that has a balanced mix of pace and spin.
Three of ODI cricket's highest team totals are by England including the all-time high of 481 for 6. The hosts, led by Eoin Morgan (the first man to lead England in two consecutive WCs), will be disappointed with the exclusion of Alex Hales from their squad because of a positive drug test but they certainly have the talent pool to replace the big hitter.