2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 3 – Could England win the World Cup?

Could England win the World Cup?

It’s a question that could be laughed off as ludicrous, optimistic or perhaps even imbecilic.

However, in just five days the World Cup will begin and so too will England’s campaign – against red-hot favourites and hosts Australia.

Given how hyped the build-up is towards any English sporting team in close proximity to a major tournament, is it too much to suggest that England could win the Cricket World Cup?

On paper at least, England have a chance.

Coach Peter Moores is starting to shape his side into a balanced, professional unit with both strength in-depth and the correct mix of emerging talent and established stars.

The most exciting of the talented players in England’s squad is Jos Buttler.

Buttler’s ability to play shots across 360 degrees mirrors the style of AB de Villiers, who is by far the world’s leading batsman at present.

Yet Buttler has a formidable journey to take if he is to morph into a cricketer capable of the destruction that de Villiers can wreak at will.

Not only that, his wicketkeeping skills must improve if he is to emulate de Villiers later in his career.

Aside from Buttler, England’s coaching staff will be hopeful of a polished display from opener Moeen Ali, who looks the perfect foil for Ian Bell, a player most at home when quietly accumulating runs at the top of the order.

Moeen is not a batsman of maniacal aggression, but his timing of the ball is majestic.

The Worcestershire man has also drastically improved his spin bowling and is the leading long-term candidate to replace Graeme Swann in all forms of the game.

England’s celebrated bowling unit is also worthy of attention, with James Anderson spearheading an attack comprising of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan.

Throughout the winter ODIs against Sri Lanka, Australia and India, the bowlers outperformed the batsman in what has become an established trend over the past few seasons.

Worryingly for England it is a trend that extends to all forms of the game.

When Alastair Cook, a batsman who struggled for runs for a long period of time, departed as England captain it was Eoin Morgan who took over the reins.

Morgan’s own form at that time was patchy, but his batting record when captaining England previously was far better than when he wasn’t.

However, Morgan’s form has continued to decline into his tenure as permanent ODI captain.

After hitting 121 against Australia in the first match of a tri-series also involving India, Morgan was then dismissed for two ducks against their arch-rivals and only managed two runs against India, before another dismal duck during the defeat to Pakistan in England’s final warm-up game.

Despite Morgan’s scratchy form, he remains one of England’s most dangerous batsmen and could in the future form a mouthwatering alliance with the likes of Buttler if he remains in charge.

Morgan and Buttler are both ‘finishers’, meaning they can accelerate their scoring to win their side a match when chasing a total in excess of 300 runs.

Too often, though, they have been found out – particularly when chasing such lofty totals – and the World Cup will provide plenty of giddy run chases if England are to go deep into the latter stages.

If England were to be successful Down Under, plenty of work needs to be done on the mentality of the batsmen when chasing large totals – a fear of such run chases also seems to plague the England batsmen.

England’s middle order also needs to score runs faster, in greater volume and with a prudent balance of orthodox and unorthodox shot selection.

Perhaps they have been hindered by the ECB central contracts and the subsequent lack of experience in T20 cricket such as the IPL, where players such as de Villiers and MS Dhoni have both honed and revolutionised the skill set of a modern batsman.

World Cup victory may therefore be out of England’s reach, for now.

Looking at their squad, their recent performances and their ‘flair’ players they could reasonably expect to make the quarter-finals, but any result beyond that would be seen as a shock.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 2 – Top 10 bowlers

Cricket, as every bowler knows, is very much a batsman’s game.

Bowlers are afforded a disproportionate share of the limelight, especially in the batsman-friendly Twenty20 arena, but could that be about to change?

At the upcoming World Cup, which starts next Friday, spectators will have the chance to cast their eyes over some toe-crunching yorkers, devious slower balls, doosras, sliders and of course, some good old-fashioned chin music.

Part of the skill of being a bowler in the modern game is the art of deception. If a bowler can deceive a batsman with a well-concealed variation, half the battle is won.

So, with all these things in mind, who are the top 10 bowlers to watch out for in Australia and New Zealand this February?

  1. James Faulkner – Australia – left-arm pace
  • Key stat: Took 19 wickets in 14 ODIs during 2014

Under normal circumstances, this crafty Aussie pacer would occupy a spot in my top three bowlers at the 2015 World Cup. However, a side strain has thrown Faulkner’s participation into doubt. There is a chance he may overcome the niggling injury to bat for the home side, but his chances of bowling are slim. His fans will be lamenting his luck as his superb variations have made him Australia’s go-to man in the ‘death overs’ with the back-of-the-hand slower ball his most impressive, and deceptive, weapon. He will be sorely missed if he cannot recover in time.

  1. Vernon Philander – South Africa – seamer
  • Key stat: Conceded just 4.84 runs an over in 2014

Very much underrated in some corners of the cricketing world, Philander will line up Down Under as one of the Proteas’ most valued assets. His economy is outstanding and the unsung seamer also has the knack of picking up key wickets – often by frustrating batsmen with his line and length, making him the perfect foil for the terrifying pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

  1. Matt Henry – New Zealand – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Averaged over three wickets per ODI in 2014

New Zealand have unearthed a gem in Matt Henry. The 23-year-old destroyed Pakistan in their ODI series in December, claiming 13 wickets at a measly average of 16.30 apiece. Henry is still relatively new to ODI cricket, competing in eight games, but his career wicket tally of 21 suggests he has the ability to strike quickly and regularly. His lack of fame could see him surprise many teams and looks set to be the World Cup’s dark horse bowler.

  1. Shakib Al-Hasan – Bangladesh – left-arm spin
  • Key stat: Took 21 ODI wickets with a 3.72 economy in 2014

Shakib is a proven limited-overs performer and is consequently coveted by many T20 franchises across the world. Those lucky enough to secure his signature can count on his accurate spin, frugal economy and habit of picking up wickets in the middle overs. His bowling alone would see him picked in most teams but his batting is aggressive, making him the top-ranked all-rounder in all three forms of the game.

  1. Ravi Ashwin – India – off-spin
  • Key stat: Took 23 ODI wickets in 17 matches through 2014

Tall, clever and hugely effective, Ashwin will lead India’s spin attack Down Under. Using variations both subtle and tricky, he has become one of the leading spinners in world cricket. However, his temperament can sometimes be questioned, particularly when he is attacked by batsmen looking to unsettle him, and that will prove to be his biggest challenge at the World Cup.

  1. Mohammed Shami – India – seamer
  • Key stat: Joint-highest ODI wicket taker in 2014 with 38 scalps

Shami enters the World Cup as one of India’s breakthrough trio of pacemen. Alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron he is beginning to dispel the myth that Indian pace bowlers lack bite. Shami enjoyed an excellent 2014, taking 38 ODI wickets, but his economy of 6.16 is in danger of undermining his good work Down Under if he cannot limit the runs he concedes.

  1. Dale Steyn – South Africa – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Claimed 22 ODI wickets in 2014

The sight of Dale Steyn charging in to bowl at over 90mph is arguably the scariest in cricket and South Africa will reap the rewards on the fast, bouncy Antipodean pitches. Steyn is especially useful in the death overs, where fierce yorkers and off-cutters help him to keep the run rate down. He will form a lethal opening attack with Morne Morkel, but his individual brilliance alone could help South Africa to World Cup victory come March.

  1. Lasith Malinga – Sri Lanka – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Took 29 wickets (one every 27 balls) in 2014

‘Malinga the slinger’ is a harsh nickname for such a talented player, but Malinga’s unique action continues to fool the world’s best batsmen. Armed with 90mph pace and a fiendishly deceptive slower-ball, Malinga regularly picks up wickets in large numbers, including two five-wicket hauls in 2014 alone. Look out for his eye-watering yorkers, which decimated the lesser teams in 2011.

  1. Mitchell Johnson – Australia – left-arm fast
  • Key stat: Claimed a 4.80 economy in 2014

Part of Mitchell Johnson’s appeal is that he tends to aim for batsmen’s heads rather than the stumps but, then again, how else would he be considered the world’s most feared pace bowler? He has managed to ditch his reputation as a wayward paceman, and is now seen as one of the most accurate around. Add that to his ability to reach speeds of up to 95mph and Australia might just have a World Cup-winning bowler on their hands.

  1. Ajantha Mendis – Sri Lanka – right-arm spin
  • Key stat: Took 38 ODI wickets at 21.63 in 2014

Mendis has become the great mystery of modern spin bowling. His mastery of variation balls has helped his deception to such an extent that nobody is sure whether he’s an off-spin or a leg-spin bowler. As a batsman, that uncertainty must be a gruesome thought and his collection of 38 victims during 2014 shows just how effective he is. The one criticism that surrounds his magical bowling is that he tends to be quite expensive – he had an economy of 5.76 in 2014 – but his awesome strike rate of 22.5 goes a long way to excuse that profligacy.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 1 – Top 10 batsmen

With a little over three weeks until the 2015 Cricket World Cup begins, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to host what has the potential to be the best World Cup in cricketing history.

World cricket is flush with batting innovators, big-hitters and majestic shotmakers.

To some spectators, the World Cup and its 50-over format is seen as antiquated and endangered when compared to the vibrant universe of Twenty20 cricket.

However, ODI cricket is not being given the credit it deserves, and here’s why. Watch out for the following ten batsmen who are set to light up the 2015 World Cup.

  1. Joe Root – England – middle order
  • Key stat: Scored three ODI centuries in 2014

Many see Joe Root as a future England Test captain, but at the moment he’s quite content plundering runs for England in every format of the game. Root has become so important for England that he very often finds himself to be England’s saviour when his colleagues have faltered. Root is a steady accumulator of runs, and the antipodean pitches will suit him in February.

  1. Chris Gayle – West Indies – opener
  • Key stat: Hit more sixes than fours in ODIs last year

Perhaps the most destructive opening batsman in the world, Gayle is back in the West Indies side after their recent pay dispute. His presence looks sure to lift a side controversially shorn of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo at this World Cup. Gayle will continually look to make a fast start but is in danger of being caught out by the fast and bouncy pitches Down Under, with his main weakness being the short ball. If he can survive that, he will score both quickly and colossally.

  1. Steve Smith – Australia – middle order
  • Key stat: Boasts a 49.18 average in 12 ODIs last season

Steve Smith has taken well to Test captaincy, scoring four centuries at an average of 128.16 in the recent series against India. He should be confident of transferring that form into the World Cup when he will have the chance to score big runs on home soil. For Australia, the problem lies in where to place Smith in a middle order that is brimming with runs, which is a nice problem to have.

  1. Kane Williamson – New Zealand – number three
  • Key stat: Compiled a 70.00 average in 12 ODIs during 2014

New Zealand’s latest batting talent has finally broken through, for good. Kane Williamson enjoyed a superb 2014 in ODI cricket, striking seven half-centuries in just 12 innings. He forms a profitable partnership with Ross Taylor in the top order and can also send down some useful off-spin. Williamson has carried his 2014 form into 2015, having scored 103 off 107 balls against Sri Lanka this week.

  1. Hashim Amla – South Africa – opener
  • Key stat: Hit 892 runs in ODI cricket in 2014

In normal circumstances, Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 153 against the West Indies would have made all the headlines, but he was upstaged by AB de Villiers’ record-braking innings. His 2014 form, where he recorded five centuries and a 52.47 average, has progressed into 2015 and he will look to create a solid base for the South African innings before AB, David Miller and co light the bonfires.

  1. Virat Kohli – India – top order
  • Key stat: Scored 1,054 runs off 1,058 balls in ODIs last season

Ignoring a lippy attitude and some questionable on-field manners, Virat Kohli has emerged as India’s ‘Mr Reliable’. His run-a-ball record in ODI cricket during 2014 is a by-product of some devastating T20 displays, and the pin-up boy of Indian cricket is now churning out the runs in all forms of the game. His excellent fielding adds another string to his bow – and it is in that department where India need to focus on most if they are to retain their title.

  1. Angelo Mathews – Sri Lanka – middle order
  • Key stat: Second-highest ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,244 runs

One of the most underrated cricketers in modern times, Mathews has quickly established himself as the leading middle order batsman in ODI cricket. His ability to accelerate an innings in both clinical and efficient style is a skill keenly sought when ambitions of World Cup glory are harboured. His place in the team is as an all-rounder, but if he can replicate the form which saw him amass a tally of 1,244 runs last season he could finally gain the recognition he deserves.

  1. Rohit Sharma – India – opener
  • Key stat: Registered the world-record innings in ODIs with 264 against Sri Lanka last November

When a batsman possesses the elegance and talent to emulate the great Sachin Tendulkar, huge expectation comes with it, and Rohit Sharma has finally lived up to it. His mammoth total of 264 against Sri Lanka was a world-record in 50-over cricket, and a recent knock of 138 has confirmed the Indian opener’s super form ahead of the World Cup.

  1. Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka – number three
  • Key stat: Top ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,256 runs

Ever-dependable, rock-solid and almost impossible to dismiss, Sangakkara has confirmed his presence in the pantheon of all-time cricket greats. Having scored four centuries and eight fifties in 2014, he arrives at the World Cup in excellent knick and will again be the cornerstone of the Sri Lankan innings. Can he finally add a World Cup title to his illustrious career?

  1. AB de Villiers – South Africa – number three
  • Key stat: Scored the fastest ODI 50 and 100 in history, making 149 off 44 balls last Sunday.

There is no batsman more mesmeric than AB de Villiers when he swings at full cry. A master innovator, creating shots that previously seemed impossible, he has crafted a new way of hitting; a new way of scoring big totals quickly. That was best evidenced by his thunderous 149 from 44 balls against the West Indies this week, scoring the fastest 50 and the fastest 100 in ODI history along the way. I reckon he’s seeing the ball well, don’t you?

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89