Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Can England win the Champions Trophy?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017
So that's the question: can England win the Champions Trophy? Well the simple answer to that is yes, they can, so I guess we go to the next question: will they? Now that one is harder to answer.

The series against South Africa served at first to raise expectations, and then to dampen them. They won a series against the top ranked team, starting with a strong opening victory, coming through at the death in match two, before then collapsing in a heap at Lord's. Even allowing for the way they inevitably dip in dead rubbers, England crumbling to 20/6 in the first five overs of the game made the pantheon of great collapses. Despite all that, they are among the favourites for a reason, having drastically improved in the format over the past couple of years and benefiting from home advantage. With a relatively settled side and a batting line up that - despite Monday's debacle - packs a punch, there's no reason why they shouldn't go all the way.

What England might lack is a winning pedigree. Less heralded England teams have come close before when the tournament has been at home, but both 2004 and 2013 saw them fail to seal the deal from positions of strength in the final. England's ODI cricket was defined by failure, by hapless performances at international tournaments, by missed moments along the way, by conservatism that held them back while other teams strode forward. This is their chance to show none of that matters any more, and to start that pedigree themselves. A chance to learn from the mistakes of before, and to make a clean break from them. And even more, with a home world cup in two years' time, it's a chance to lay down a marker for the future as well.

For once, England find themselves with a settled team, breaking a tradition of making changes on the eve of a tournament that has only served to hinder them in the past. This time round they know their strongest team, they know their top order, and they know the bowling attack they want when all are fit. What could stop them?

Of course, there are a couple of problems, because it could never go that smoothly. For one, collapsing to 20/6 on the eve of a tournament isn't a move to often instil confidence, even if it is more of a one-off than a consistent problem. An injury to Ben Stokes, limiting the amount he will bowl, isn't ideal either for the balance of the side. And for all the talk of having a settled team, this could be the one time when making a last minute change might be a good thing. Whilst Jason Roy has struggled for form at the top of the order, with four single figure scores in his last five innings, Jonny Bairstow has flourished and played the way that makes it difficult to leave him out. I will freely admit that I'm hopelessly biased, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Of course, Jason Roy could go out tomorrow, get a century, and close that door.

All in all, this surely has to be one of England's best chances yet to win a global ODI tournament. Whether they will or not is a different question, but we know they have the ability to do so. The same is true of several other teams though, with Australia and India two I have my eye on in particular. I feel this is the best prepared I've seen England going into a tournament, it's just a matter of delivering on the day and with the pressure of knock out matches. We'll see.

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