London, United Kingdom – England’s defence of the Cricket World Cup will be “very difficult” in India, but their depth and versatility give them a chance, according to their former bowler Steven Finn.
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Payback will inevitably be at the top of the Kiwis’ agenda after the Super Over defeat at Lord’s.
England, however, should keep their eyes on the long game as they set about toppling the hosts and favourites, India.
“You have to have a very diverse squad to be able to compete in this World Cup,” Finn told Al Jazeera.
“You’re going to encounter a wide and vast array of different conditions over the course of the seven weeks because of how big the country is and how different the climate is across the regions.
“The last three [World Cups] have been won by the home teams, and if you look at the volume of 50-over cricket that India have played in the build-up to this, it will be a cause for concern for everyone else in the tournament let alone England.”
That is a sentiment agreed with by Indian Premier League (IPL) and Test spinner, Jayant Yadav.
Yadav made his India debut playing three Tests against England in 2016, while his last call-up for India was in the four-run defeat by South Africa in the one-day international (ODI) in Cape Town in 2022.
“The way the tournament is structured, the important thing will be consistency,” Yadav told Al Jazeera. “Everybody plays everybody and you cannot, in a World Cup where you play [at least] nine games, go hot and cold.”
He said it would be important for England to adapt to the varying conditions and to peak at the right time.
“India playing in India will be a formidable side and favourites – but then again England have been doing really well since they revolutionised their white-ball system since 2015.”
The mastermind behind England’s revival in white-ball cricket was Eoin Morgan. The Dublin-born batter revamped England’s squad and their style of play with an unrelenting attacking mindset that would lead to the 2019 victory.
Morgan retired last year at the age of 36, handing over the reins to Jos Buttler who had kept wicket for him in 2015 and stood as his vice captain in 2019.
“There’s a lot of continuation of the message that Eoin started, and Jos was a big part of, in 2015 onwards,” said Finn, who played for years with both. “I think Jos is a natural leader, well respected in the group and he’s got his own strong opinions about the way the game needs to be played.”
One factor that England have to overcome is the lack of 50-over cricket they have played coming into the tournament.
Indeed it were New Zealand whom England last played in a wedged-in white-ball series in September following the drawn Ashes Test series with Australia.
In the 50-over format, England won the series 3-1. A three-match series against Ireland followed, for which England chose to field weakened teams – prior to September, England played only six ODI matches this year.
“With the inception of the Hundred [a 100-balls per side tournament] and how many T20 leagues were popping up around the world, it was inevitable that countries that don’t have a proper blocked-out window for those tournaments would start to struggle to play enough bi-lateral cricket,” Finn said.
“I’d say India are the favourites [with] the amount of cricket they’ve played, the home conditions, the home crowd.”
Not only has Twenty20 (T20) taken over as the most widespread format of the sport, but it has irrevocably changed the way both ODIs and Tests are played.
“People’s approach with the bat is the biggest change,” Finn said. “We could end up seeing some monster scores in this World Cup because of people’s ability to clear the ropes and their willingness to do so.”
Finn said this is where England’s strength in depth could be telling.
“That is why they’ve picked the squad they have because they bat all the way down to numbers nine and 10, who are also able to clear the ropes and play aggressively as well.”
Yadav largely agrees.
“England’s best advantage, where they are ahead of a lot of other teams, has got to be their power bank – their batting from one to nine – their advantage is if they get a formidable score on the board consistently, even against India, that will put the other team under pressure so that’s going to be interesting.”
The main protagonists are also quite clear for Yadav.
“I wouldn’t want to bowl to Jos Buttler and, by the looks of it, England is a very formidable team,” he said.
“If you look at the top order, everybody has played in the IPL and all of them are experienced players … [and] Ben Stokes in any team is a very good advantage to you at any point, in any conditions and against any opponent.”
He added: “On top of the batting, they have strength with the new ball. Chris Woakes in particular on the right pitches, in certain regions of the country, could have a big role to play again for England.”
England, however, are not Yadav’s second favourites. Instead, the 33-year-old – who has played for Gujarat Titans, Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL – thinks five-time winners Australia are the team most likely to stop India.
“The majority of players in the World Cup have five or 10 years’ experience in the IPL, but David Warner has played in the IPL for 14 seasons,” Yadav said of Australia’s opening batter.
Spinners will be key
Yadav says another key factor will be how his fellow spinners fare in those variable conditions across the country.
That is an area where Australia have been weakened following a late calf injury for slow-left armer, Ashton Agar, with batter Marnus Labuschagne taking his place.
It is Australia’s conveyor belt of all-rounders that Yadav believes could threaten India but the hosts’ great rivals Pakistan boast four spinners in their squad led by leg-spinning vice captain Shadab Khan.
“Where all the teams will be challenged is in the middle overs where they face quality spin,” Yadav said.
“At any given time in 50-over cricket, spin has gone for runs; but at the same time if spinners are able to pick three or four wickets, that can really change the games.”
India’s slow bowling options rest on left-arm wrist spinner, Kuldeep Yadav, and veteran off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin.
The biggest challenge the favourites will face, though, is likely to be the weight of expectations.
“Sometimes it can be daunting in the sense that the pressure is unmatched, you can’t perceive the amount of pressure that the Indians will be under,” Yadav continued.
“But India are a very well-rounded team, they have covered all their departments – batting, bowling, fielding. They have different types of bowlers and batters.”
Meanwhile, Finn says, England’s victory four years ago will give them plenty of belief and determination.
“The opportunity to defend the title that England have here and the squad they’ve assembled in the build-up to this serves them well,” he said.
“I think they’ll get to the knockout stages and they have a strong enough squad to be able to do that and then anything can happen. But on the flip side, if you come across India, you could be in a bit of trouble.”