By Kieran Wellington

  • England open their campaign – and the tournament – against South Africa at The Oval tomorrow
  • Eoin Morgan’s side are injury-free, despite a few scares in their World Cup warm-up vs Australia on Saturday
  • The hosts are also the favourites for the tournament, a trophy they have never lifted in its 11 previous editions
LONDON, ENGLAND – England’s new era of fearless one-day cricket will face its biggest test tomorrow when Australian head coach Trevor Bayliss and Irish-born captain Eoin Morgan lead their side into a home World Cup.

 

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Since their calamitous exit to relative minnows Bangladesh in the group stages of the last World Cup, England have risen from number six to number one in the world, and set the highest ever ODI team total whilst doing it. This isn’t just a team to be feared – this is a team to be heralded.

But all the praise and accolades will count for nothing if they can’t reproduce their unmatchable form on the biggest stage white-ball cricket has to offer in pursuit of England’s first ever Cricket World Cup triumph.

Eoin Morgan will lead his side out at The Oval tomorrow in the first of nine group stage matches against a South Africa outfit who may just thrive in the role of gate-crashers.

 

England’s starting XI?

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In a squad of just 15, perhaps choosing a first 11 to take on the responsibility of leading England out in their opening game at a home World Cup is less taxing than normal. There’s a smaller pool to choose from, all of whom Morgan and Trevor Bayliss see up close in every training session and warm-up game, but the quality of those 16 men only serves to make the decision harder.

Of course, it’s a good problem to have for Morgan, a problem he would have dreamed about having before the opening of the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand when he was essentially given a hospital pass in replacing Alastair Cook as captain two months before the start of the tournament.

Just five men remain from the side that lost four of their six Pool A games: Morgan, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, all of which now hold a crucial role in England’s one-day setup, and will almost certainly start tomorrow.

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A lot has been made of Woakes’ likely new-ball partner Jofra Archer’s late inclusion, with the ECB changing qualification rules almost specifically in order to get the Barbadian-born quick into an already star-studded line-up. Woakes and Archer will be given seam support from established all-rounder Ben Stokes, but this means that just four starting spots are up for grabs.

Leg-spinner Adil Rashid will certainly be one, having taken the most ODI wickets of any man in the last four years (129).

Jonny Bairstow will be another and will open the batting with Jason Roy, two eye-poppingly devastating batsmen who have scored 1,675 runs together at an average of 64.42 and have done it whilst being the fastest-scoring opening partnership in ODI history.

James Vince and Liam Dawson are obvious back-up batting and spin options respectively, so that leaves one place for three seam-bowling candidates: Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran.

Who England choose out of the injury-prone but X-factor Wood, the consistent and middle-overs expert Plunkett and the all-round talent and temperament of the rising star Curran on flat, batsmen-friendly wickets will go a long way to deciding their destiny.

 

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South Africa bring experience and genuine game-changers

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Captain Faf du Plessis, 34, heads up a South African side loaded to the brim with experience. Of the 15 Proteas selected, six have over 100 ODI caps to their name: the most of any side along with India. Imran Tahir will make it seven South Africans if and when he plays at The Oval tomorrow.

They are street-smart and with the likes of Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla and the captain himself have genuine star-quality in their batting line-up. The biggest concern for anyone supporting the boys in green tomorrow is their all-round options.

JP Duminy is now 35 and was only ever a handy off-spinner: he averages over 45 with his off-breaks in ODIs. Andile Phehlukwayo’s averages look good in a relatively small sample size of 33 one-day games for his country – 33 with the bat and 29 with the ball represents decent form.But his List A batting average of under 20 shows South Africa have a susceptible lower-middle order if you can dismiss the top five early. Dale Steyn, one of South Africa’s best ever bowlers, has been ruled out with a troublesome shoulder.

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That puts further responsibility on spearhead Kagiso Rabada, already a global name in his own right having been named the best young player in the world by Wisden last summer, but without any World Cup experience to fall back on.

The mercurial David Miller could make the difference for the side coached by Ottis Gibson (already touted in some corners as the man to take over from Bayliss at the end of his contract). Miller has always appeared hit-and-miss because of his ultra-aggressive approach, but an ODI batting average of nearly 40 at over a run-a-ball tells a different story.

If South Africa bowl first tomorrow and their young (barring 40-year-old Tahir) bowling line-up doesn’t go for too many, it is hard to bet against the quartet of de Kock, Amla, du Plessis and Miller in chasing any score down.

Despite losing 2-1 in their most recent series vs the tournament hosts, the final game where a virtually full-strength England were skittled for 153 at Lord’s – with Rabada as tormentor-in-chief – shows du Plessis and co may prove a dangerous first opponent for England.

 

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