England face tough start to end World Cup jinx
LONDON (Web Desk) – England face a daunting start in their bid to win a first World Cup on Saturday against co-hosts Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with memories fresh of a thrashing by their arch-rivals.
The recent tri-series saw England lose three times to Australia, with the final in Perth on February 1 ending in a crushing 112-run defeat for Eoin Morgan’s men.
Significantly, Australia fast bowler Mitchell Johnson marked his first appearance of 2015 with a decisive spell of three top-order wickets in just 10 balls that included the left-armer bowling Morgan first ball.
The way in which the World Cup is structured means England should still qualify for the quarter-finals regardless of the outcome of their Valentine’s Day opener.
However, the recent Australia match was symptomatic of some longstanding England failings in one-day cricket, with a promising performance in the field falling away towards the end of the innings before “extreme” bowling, in this case sheer pace rather than sharp spin, proved their undoing.
After the Perth fixture, a defiant Morgan said: “We strive to get the best out of ourselves. If we do that we’ll be a very dangerous side regardless of who we’re playing.”
But his protestations that England were not under pressure were met with a withering response from Johnson.
“I think they are dreaming if they think they are not under pressure,” Johnson said. “Every team is going to be under pressure.”
It has not all been doom and gloom for England, the last of whose three losing World Cup finals was in Australia in 1992, on this latest trip Down Under.
Experienced batsman Ian Bell made scores of 88 not out against defending champions India and 141 against the Aussies in Hobart earlier in the tri-series.
And in ditching Test captain Alastair Cook, who had scored just one 50 in his past 22 one-day innings, from the World Cup squad before they left England, the selectors lanced an especially nasty boil, with an opening partnership between Bell and left-hander Moeen Ali offering grounds for some optimism.
The new skipper neatly evaded a verbal bouncer from Kevin Pietersen when the axed England batsman — playing in Australia’s domestic Big Bash Twenty20 tournament — said Morgan would “love to have me in the England team”.
But if Pietersen’s comments were predictable, revelations that Morgan had been the subject of a blackmail attempt by the current partner of his former girlfriend were bizarre.
On the field, it appears England are content to keep the big-hitting Alex Hales in reserve for the time being.
The way in which fast bowler Steven Finn showed signs of a return to form with five wickets in a recent win over India was an encouraging sign.
But whether England have the match-winners — the batsmen and bowlers who can transform a one-day contest in a matter of overs — when the pressure is really on remains to be seen.