2019 champions England have recalled all-rounder Ben Stokes from his ODI retirement and will be one of the teams of the tournament at the ODI World Cup.
England has a big target on its back heading into the ICC Cricket World Cup. As the defending world champions in both the 50-over and Twenty20 formats, the English are the kings of white-ball cricket and, in theory, the team to beat over the next couple of months — even if India, South Africa and Australia, in particular, might have something to say about that. There's plenty going for England, too. (More Cricket News | ICC ODI World Cup 2023)
Eight of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad are back again seeking to defend the title and that experience can be crucial in those tight games, which can be a battle of nerves as much as anything else. Among them is Ben Stokes, who came out of ODI retirement last month and has already underlined his enduring value by hitting a 182 — the highest individual score by English player in the format — in the recent series against New Zealand.
In Jos Buttler, the team has a smart captain who seamlessly replaced the retired Eoin Morgan in the role and hasn't yet allowed the position to affect his form. Buttler remains one of the world's most destructive white-ball batters.
England isn't short of them, either. There's Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Harry Brook, along with more nimble batters like Dawid Malan and Joe Root. The batting goes deep, too, in the form of Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran.
Beating New Zealand 3-1 in what ultimately was a dominant series victory was an encouraging way to prepare for the World Cup, even if it was in conditions vastly different to what England will face on the subcontinent.
There are some nagging concerns, however.
England's ODI side is nowhere near as settled as it was in 2019. There have been some issues regarding who will open the batting alongside Bairstow, now that Jason Roy — an ODI stalwart — was axed at the last minute to accommodate Brook. It will be Malan to start with and Brook is another option, though neither regularly open the batting.
Brook, a batter who will likely be in England teams in all formats for years to come, belatedly earned the faith of selectors despite scoring just 37 runs in three innings against New Zealand. Root struggled just as much, hitting only 39 runs in four innings and lacks rhythm in the 50-over game having played just 16 ODIs since the 2019 World Cup.
England's bowling might be questioned, too, with the X-factor of Jofra Archer not around and fellow pacer Mark Wood's fitness remaining suspect given he didn't even play one match in the New Zealand series and hasn't had any competitive cricket since the Ashes. Spinner Adil Rashid, meanwhile, missed the final three matches against the Black Caps because a calf injury.
Before New Zealand, the English had only won one of their five previous ODI series — and that was against Bangladesh. There are series losses in there against India, Australia and South Africa, potentially England's biggest rivals at the World Cup.
Still, England's white-ball teams have an aura about them these days and their deep batting stocks mean they are rarely going to be completely out of games. They have big players who are used to the big stage and to seizing the moment when it comes.
It would be a big surprise if England doesn't reach the semi-finals, even if successfully defending the title on the subcontinent might be regarded as a bigger achievement than winning it for the first time four years ago on that unforgettable day at Lord's.
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