The statistics surrounding England’s reinvention as One Day International batting line-up since the 2015 World Cup have been well documented. Highest average run rate, most totals over 300, twice setting the record score for an ODI. The list of accolades goes on and on.
However, there is an old saying in cricket that it is the batsmen who set up the match and the bowlers who win you the game. With that in mind, is it actually England’s bowlers who hold the key to ending their global 50 over tournament drought?
Taking the most recent global tournament as an example. The 2017 ICC Champions Trophy bears out how vital taking wickets is to reducing the batting side’s score. Eventual winners Pakistan led the way with 37 strikes, while England and India were second and third in the wicket-taking department. It should come as no surprise that these three teams all had a place in the semi-finals.
If wicket taking is the key to tournament success then the number one ranked ODI side seem to be in good stead.
Since the conclusion of the previous World Cup, only India has bettered England’s total of 543 wickets. While in the last 12 months only Afghanistan has claimed more victims, although India can overtake them during their series against the West Indies.
The ICC player rankings, although not always the clearest indicator of performance, sees England have five bowlers in the top 25. While four of those bowlers, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali have all taken more than 50 wickets in the three years since the last World Cup.
For so long England has had bowling line-ups built around a battery of right-arm medium fast bowlers but this is no longer the case.
Added to the more senior players like Woakes and Plunkett is Sam Curran, the breakout star of the Test Match summer. The 20-year-old joins David Willey as the left-arm swing bowling option. It is unlikely that both will make the final squad but it is a bowling style that proved so vital during their 2010 T20 World Cup victory with Ryan Sidebottom taking 10 scalps.
The player who might have the biggest impact on the host nation’s fortunes is Rashid. The leg-spinner has taken 101 wickets since the last World cup, a tally only bettered by another wrist-spinner called Rashid (Khan). He has the trust of Eoin Morgan to bowl in the death overs. His maturity and control of his variations have meant the 30-year-old has finally become the bowler he seemed destined to be when he burst on the scene as an 18-year-old against Warwickshire.
His place in the Test side may have been the cause of much debate during the English summer but he is very clearly one of the first names on the team sheet when it comes to the white ball formats.
While the current tour of Sri Lanka may have been much of a damp squib and have little bearing on the World Cup, it could have unearthed the final piece of the bowling puzzle. The raw pace of Olly Stone. The 25-year-old fast bowler saw his first action in the second ODI and caught the eye with a rising short delivery that saw Niroshan Dickwella fending the ball into the waiting hands of Jos Buttler.
A bowler that can hit 90mph has been something England has been striving for since Harmison, Flintoff, and Gough. It is the final part of a versatile attack that can thrive in all conditions when you take into account the all-around talents of Ben Stokes and Ali.
Despite all the statistics showing England’s ability to take wickets, there is one area where their bowling department continues to struggle. That is their economy rate.
Since May 2016, Eng have played 53 completed matches with 41 wins. Despite that, they have the second worst economy rate in the world.
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) October 23, 2018
If this continues then the pressure on their batsmen to continue to make massive totals will remain. The evidence has shown they can do it but the final ODI against Sri Lanka is a timely reminder that 300+ run totals are not automatic.
In all likelihood, the batsmen will dominate the World Cup. Records will fall but if history is truly instructive, the side that finds a way to take the most wickets will walk away with the trophy. The depth and talent at the disposal of England, combined with home comforts, means they may never have a better chance of breaking their duck.