Ben Stokes is a key part of the power-packed batting order, but all eyes will be on his knee © Getty Images
That England are the bookies favourites speaks volumes for their improvement since the 2015 World Cup. Shocked into a change of mindset by their wretched from in the tournament, they discarded their coach, several senior players (including their top wicket-taker, James Anderson, and top run-scorer, Ian Bell) and their old approach in reinventing themselves as an ultra-aggressive side who are committed to attacking with bat and ball as a default option.
The change has been dramatic: they have recorded five of the six highest scores in their ODI history since the end of the World Cup, including the world record total of 444 against Pakistan, and won six of their seven most recent bilateral ODI series. The decision to stick with Eoin Morgan as captain, despite a disappointing World Cup and his absence from the Bangladesh tour, has been crucial: he has driven the ‘no-fear’ approach (the revival began in the New Zealand series at the start of 2015; just before Trevor Bayliss started his stint as England coach) and insisted upon a continuity of selection that has ensured the side is settled and their roles well defined.
The development of Ben Stokes into a top-class allrounder has been key, but this is a side well-served by all-rounders – Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett could also fit in this category – meaning they bat deep and have plentiful bowling options. Most of all, they are a team that will, with the bat, with the ball and in the field, always take the positive option. And if they go down, they’ll go down swinging.
They might even be the most exciting team to watch in the tournament; has that ever been the case with an England ODI side? They went close to winning in 2013 but that always felt like the end of an era. This time they could win and the sense is of a team that is still starting out.
Champions Trophy history
1998 – Quarter-final
2000 – Quarter-final
2002 – Group stages
2004 – Runner’s up
2006 – Group stages
2009 – Semi-final
2013 – Runner’s up
England have won eight of their nine most recent ODIs, including series wins over West Indies, Ireland and the world’s No. 1 ranked side, South Africa. Ignoring the aberration of Lord’s, when a much-changed side was bundled out for 153 and defeated by seven wickets, their lowest total when batting first in their last 11 ODIs is 296. It was the only time they have failed to reach 300 in that sequence. A couple of batsmen are a little short of runs (Jos Buttler has reached 20 only once in eight innings; Jason Roy has not passed 20 in six) and some of the all-rounders (Stokes, Moeen and Woakes) have minor injury concerns, but England go into a global ODI tournament with expectations higher than they have been for 25 years.
Depth and consistency. They bat beyond the horizon – Woakes registered the highest score (95 not out) by a No. 8 in ODI history last year and Adil Rashid, a man with 10 first-class centuries behind him, could come in as low as No. 10 – and have six or seven options with the ball. That allows them the freedom to attack and the ability to rebuild with the bat and some insurance with the ball. Perhaps more significantly, it allows the batsmen, in particular, to buy into the aggressive ethos that has been a hallmark of their improvement over the last couple of years. The messages from the management – go out there and attack – have been consistent and have been backed by consistent team selection. The result is a settled team
History and expectation. England’s record at global ODI tournaments is famously modest and it remains to be seen how they will cope with the unusual experience of going into this home tournament as favourites. Their success has generally been built on playing fearless, no consequences, joyful cricket. And when they had nothing to lose, in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, that was relatively easy. Whether they can do it now, with the consequences of failure potentially more painful, remains to be seen.
- 5: The number of global one day finals (three World Cups and two Champions Trophy) England have contested.
- 0: The number of global one day finals they have won.
- 6.27: England’s run-rate since the last World Cup. Comfortably the best in ODIs
- 244: England have also hit the most sixes in that period – New Zealand are next on 217
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo