Niall O’Brien: Resurgent England fear no one in World Cup knockouts

The hosts have rallied behind the return of Jason Roy to open the batting and now they're just two wins away from a first-ever World Cup win.

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Every team is going to have a bit of a blip. England have had their’s with the performances against Sri Lanka and Australia.

It might not have been the worst thing to happen. It gave them a little bit of edge back again and they’ve fought with real gusto to get back on track.

CHESTER-LE-STREET, ENGLAND – JULY 03: Mark Wood of England celebrates bowling Matt Henry of New Zealand during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and New Zealand at Emirates Riverside on July 03, 2019 in Chester-le-Street, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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They were sensational against India and brushed New Zealand aside like a fly at Durham. Before the tournament, I’d have said there’s no way England lose three games in the group, but maybe they’ve done all their losing and are back on track.

They’re playing with a strut now after the losses and look full of confidence again.

There obviously was pressure on the captain – not that you’d have known it from how he looked – when they lost those games. He kept relaxed despite it all. Speaking to people around the team and in the ECB, they said he was excellent in the dressing room and steadying the ship.

He let the team know there was no need to panic after a couple of poor performances and stuck to the message that if they won their games they’d be on their way to the semi-finals

There was no chat in the England camp that they only needed one win to get through, they wanted to win both, and that shows what they’re about. They’ve got the mettle to cope with adversity, and plenty of skill to back that up.

They’re going to be very hard to beat in the semi-finals.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 24: Jason Roy of England waits for a team photograph at Lords on June 24, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Roy returns with runs

Jason Roy came back into the side and it was a different England team. He gave everyone a boost. Has any other player had such an impact on England’s team in the last decade? It’s clear that when he’s out they’re a different team. He’s pivotal in this side.

He’s grown from a bit of a dasher two or three years ago into a really complete cricketer in white-ball cricket. I’d expect him to play in the Ashes too. England will take a bit of a gamble on him because he’s got that character and desire to succeed.

Sometimes you’ve to look beyond technique and consider what’s between his two ears. Jason Roy’s shown his character and I think he’ll get his chance in the test matches this summer. He’s turned himself into one of the most complete batsmen in one-day cricket.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – JUNE 28: Joe Root of England arrives for a nets session at Edgbaston on June 28, 2019 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

It was surprising to see the team dip so much when he was out, but it was not a surprise that they missed him.

But, as Eoin Morgan said to me after the New Zealand game, you could say the same about six or seven of the England team. Take Jos Buttler out, Joe Root out, Jonny Bairstow out, it’d have a devastating effect on any team because they’re all top-class players.

If England were missing one or two of them, it’s bound to have an effect. But they do have strength in depth, which is why I’ve said all along that I expect them to win the World Cup.

Having Roy and Jonny Bairstow back together at the top of the order is crucial for England’s hopes.

They’re the best opening partnership of all-time in ODI cricket of any pair who’ve played 30 innings’ or more together. You’re talking Greenidge and Haynes, Hayden and Gilchrist, Sehwag and Tendulkar – it’s pretty remarkable company to be in.

With Liam Plunkett, you know what you’re getting. He’s a tried and trusted performer. He’s confident with the ball and can give it a nudge at the end of an innings with the bat, he’s a good character in the dressing room. It’s tough on Moeen Ali being left out, he’s been in the side for years but, unfortunately, if it’s been a 50/50 call recently, he’s been the one getting left out.

It’s good news for England though that they’ve this depth on the bench. Look at Tom Curran, he’d get into any of the other teams in the World Cup. It shows how strong England are.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – APRIL 26: General view of the covers on the pitch as rain stops play during the Royal London One Day Cup match between Warwickshire and Durham at Edgbaston on April 26, 2019 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Coin-flip games

These tosses are having a big bearing on matches too. I’m not of the view that if you win the toss you win the game, but batting first has been hugely important in this World Cup.

England’s two most recent defeats both came when they were chasing. It’s important in any semi-final that you win the toss and get runs on the board and let the bowlers take the pressure of defending a total.

The wickets aren’t as good as they were earlier in the summer. They’re not bad either, 300 is about a par score, but we haven’t seen the 360 or 370 scores we thought we might. They’ve gotten slower which makes it hard to go out and hit a “crash, bang, wallop” innings.

A lot of the games have followed a similar pattern, with a fast start and teams almost falling over the line to finish the first innings. It’ll be interesting to see if any teams make adjustments in the semi-finals because of that – promoting a batsman to give it a bit of a whack early.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 25: David Warner of Australia pulls a delivery from Mark Wood to long on during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and Australia at Lords on June 25, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

I don’t think England would do that, but India might promote Hardik Pandya or Rishabh Pant, and they might even bring in Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinner, who can bat too.

If you want to win the World Cup you can’t let the toss and the pitch play too big a part, but the captains will be dying to have a bat first in the semis.

It’s highly unlikely that India will climb ahead of Australia in the standing in the final games, but I don’t think England will be too bothered with who they play. Maybe they’d slightly prefer to play India just because they’ve beaten them recently already, but it won’t matter to them too much.

England are 15/8 favourites to win the cricket world cup. Amazing.