If the England football team’s World Cup record is abysmal, consider the plight of England’s cricketers. With the next cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand starting this Saturday, England will be looking to end a 50-over trophy drought dating back 40 years since the ICC first staged the tournament.
But according to England fast-bowling legend Bob Willis, that barren run is set to continue. “I’m afraid England aren’t strong enough in both batting and bowling departments so I make us huge outsiders for this competition,” he says, pessimistically.
Robert George Dylan Willis came closer than any Englishman to experiencing World Cup success. An integral part of the team that finished runners-up to West Indies in 1979, he also captained England to semi-final defeat in 1983. Since then, a solitary final appearance ending in familiar defeat in 1992 is all England have mustered.
So what is it about the World Cup that causes England to fail so dismally? “We’ve a history of playing virtually our Test line-up in one-day matches,” says Willis.
“The 50-over game moved on and England have never really caught up. You need dynamic players at the top of the order like Australia’s David Warner and Aaron Finch, who go at it from the very first ball. Australia, India and South Africa have always had the strength in depth in their batting line-up that allows them to do that.
“They can lose three or four wickets and still have reliable batsmen at 7 and 8 who can chase scores in excess of 300. England have consistently lacked that, but at least there are signs they’ve started to address it.”
Part of that restructuring process recently involved promoting Ian Bell up the order to open the innings. “It was a very wise move,” confirms Willis. “In the 50-over game you need openers who can pace an innings and accelerate quickly. Bell’s brilliant at that and his experience will be crucial at the top of the order.”
Willis is also in favour of Eoin Morgan’s appointment as new one-day captain. “Morgan’s got England playing in a more aggressive way than under Alastair Cook’s leadership. He likes to give his bowlers attacking fields to get early wickets, whereas Cook’s formula was to contain the opposition early on.
“But you’re never going to contain the likes of Australia’s Warner and Finch. You’ve got to dismiss them. Fortunately, Morgan subscribes to the idea that the best way of winning one-day matches is to bowl the opposition out.”