16 Nov

England open World Cup with a tasty starter, with a feast of cricket ahead

first_imgCricket Read more Read more Support The Guardian Share on LinkedIn Eoin Morgan warns England against ‘blind belief’ as World Cup bid begins Since you’re here… The tournament is launched by England and South Africa and this is an appetising prospect: swashbucklers against cagey old pros. We are now accustomed to England swishing while opponents buckle; the most constipated team in the 2015 World Cup has been transformed by Morgan, eagerly abetted by the wonderfully anonymous Trevor Bayliss in his last summer as England’s coach. It has been some transformation and there is faith, if not absolute certainty, that Morgan and his team will stick to their mantra of expressing themselves and enjoying the process. The caginess of 2015 has been banished.Meanwhile, their opponents are vastly experienced even though their 35-year-old opening bowler Dale Steyn will be absent since he still has a shoulder problem. The ubiquitous Imran Tahir is into his fifth decade, one of five players in the South Africa squad who is older than 34. With age, efficiency is sought rather than effervescence, though we still expect Tahir to do a lap of the ground whenever he takes a wicket. Recently efficiency has rarely been enough to defeat England.However, South Africa enter the tournament with unusually modest expectations, a situation they might enjoy. When the tournament last took place in England in 1999 they soon justified their position as one of the favourites but in the end they faltered against Australia in two epic contests. The difference between the two sides was wafer thin and may have been that Australia could just about cope with the possibility of losing, whereas the South Africans could not. Hence Australia could play with a little more freedom. Perhaps South Africa, whose World Cup record is woeful, can do that this time.The anticipation is that the early games might produce some huge scores before the pitches tire, the bowlers discover a way to impose themselves and the batsmen begin to contemplate the consequences of failure at the sharp end of the competition. However a glimpse of the pitch at the Oval revealed some green grass, which hints at the possibility of pace in the pitch (which batsmen love) and movement under cloudy skies at 10.30am (which they hate, especially when they are minded, like Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, to set off with a flurry of boundaries).The toss-winning captain will probably bowl first and if that is Du Plessis then the ball will be thrown to Rabada, who has previously caused havoc with a white ball in this country. At Lord’s two years ago England were 20 for six at the end of the fifth over and a rampant Rabada had taken four wickets. South Africa will be hoping for one of those days. Morgan says his team are prepared for the loss of three early wickets. So expect to see a lot of men with their pads on.Du Plessis mentioned with a hint of envy that England’s bowlers all know how to hold a bat, mirroring the South Africa side of 1999. This is true, theoretically. But their lower-order batsmen have rarely been to the middle this summer so expectation should not be too high. Cricket World Cup 2019 England cricket team South Africa cricket team Share on Pinterest Jofra Archer will play yet even he laments how flimsy his preparation has been. So far he has bowled 26 overs as an England player in four matches and he has faced one ball in the practice match against Australia. Yet his fearless hitting could be a major asset. Somehow they might have conjured some time at the crease for Archer along the way. Likewise Liam Plunkett, who is expected to be preferred to Mark Wood at the Oval, has had one innings (of 19) during England’s preparation. The much-vaunted lower order may well be rusty. The chances are that when they do eventually get to the crease the situation will be critical.However, the tournament goes on for so long that it is possible for any player to experience peaks and troughs of form along the way. It helps to win early but it is not necessary to start with all guns blazing. The successful campaigns of Pakistan in 1992 and Australia in 1999 underline that it is possible to prevail after a poor start with a late run when everything clicks.Despite the scope for early pyrotechnics this tournament is a marathon not a sprint, during which time the hope is that the cricket enters the British public’s consciousness as never before. Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, has spoken of a “once in a generation opportunity” to enhance the game. Hopefully his hopes will be satisfied.Globally there will be phenomenal interest and a massive TV audience. Whether that is the case in the country that is actually hosting the competition remains a source of concern. An opening English victory at the Oval might help.center_img features Share on WhatsApp “The World’s Greatest Cricket Celebration,” declares the mammoth sign under the scoreboard and it all starts at 10.30am at the Oval on Thursday. We can forget all the fluff now: the injury scares that sometimes amount to little more than a broken fingernail; the agonising over which team will be the dark horses, which players the unlikely heroes (perhaps they will be Jon Behrendorff, Liam Dawson, Tabraiz Shamsi, Fabian Allen or Isuru Udana, but I doubt it).It is more likely that one or two of the great players of the era will claim and name the tournament: it will be the one in which Virat Kohli or Kane Williamson, Mitchell Starc or Jasprit Bumrah leaves his mark. Or from the teams who set the ball rolling on Thursday it might be Eoin Morgan or Jos Buttler, Faf du Plessis or Kagiso Rabada. 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