Staying humble shouldn’t be hard for England

2015 World Cup

England recently beat the reigning world champions twice on foreign soil. They joined their hosts in taking an increasingly disinterested and careworn India to 10 matches without a victory on tour. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Just one win to show for their last 11 ODIs against Australia Down Under is a decidedly less pleasant statistic. Even that success came in Perth after the series had been lost a year ago. That they will face the old enemy in their World Cup opener on Valentine's Day is helpful, in a way. Getting it over and done with, simply starting Pool A with a handicap.

Sunday's hammering in the Name Your Latest Forgettable Sponsor Triangular final was as predictable as it was grisly. Pakistan's Haris Sohail should be grateful that his troubling 'supernatural something' doesn't take the physical form of Mitchell Johnson, looming 22 yards away behind an assortment of facial hair.

At least there is little pressure on the England captain, if only because the ECB can't entertain ditching another just yet. Last week's foiled blackmail plot against Eoin Morgan even hints at a truly exciting new era on and off the field. You certainly wouldn't have found any racy messages sent by boring old Alastair Cook.

The new skipper has mustered two runs in his last three innings combined. But Morgan's 121 against the Aussies in Sydney, having come to the crease with his side 12 for three, was proof that his cool, calculating ability is bristling beneath the surface somewhere.

Having given Cook an extra couple of months on his farm, some life has finally been breathed into a hitherto moribund top order. Moeen Ali plays with an unabashed freedom the rest of the world thought the English were wholly incapable of. If the 27-year-old had come into the side as a teenager they might well have coached it out of him. Those tidy offbreaks come in handy too.

Ian Bell, meanwhile, has crashed two hefty centuries, an 88 not out and a 51 in seven innings on Australian soil so far this time around. Between them, on their day, this left-hand right-hand pair have more unregulated class than a Conservative government free school.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad are back in tandem with the ball, the latter bringing to an end 10 months without a one-day wicket against the Indians at the WACA. Steven Finn, meanwhile, is 'unselectable' no more after finishing the triangular series as his country's leading wicket taker, while going at a shade over five runs an over.

While Chris Woakes is encouraging and improving with the ball, he has a regrettable knack of being slapped all around the park. Not ideal while Broad remains similarly afflicted, with Chris Jordan hardly looking like stemming the flow either.

This leakage nullifies the parsimony of Anderson, his wicket taking threat reduced through no fault of his own when a batsman can quietly play out his 10 overs and plunder elsewhere.

The middle order hints at not only future success, but longevity. James Taylor, Joe Root and Jos Buttler all have enough about them to help England progress to the latter stages of future tournaments. Experience will bring consistency out of all three.

But, along with a faltering Morgan and the bits-and-pieces-personified Ravi Bopara, does that make for a World Cup-winning line-up right now? Not a chance. Bopara, incidentally, was only trusted to send down 18 Kookaburras in anger during cricket's inaugural Big Three Cup. He averaged 14.25 with the bat.

This muddle is the price you pay, perhaps, for droning on about 'four year cycles' before ripping up another masterplan with barely weeks to spare. The obsession with peaking for six weeks every four years appears to be stopping them from doing just that.  

Why didn't Taylor's chance come sooner? Why wasn't pride swallowed and the dead weight of captain Cook jettisoned earlier? Kevin Pietersen, Michael Carberry and Michael Lumb made up half of the top six highest run scorers in the latest Big Bash.

The current darling of T20 jamborees became something of a taunting travelling circus on the same continent as the England squad. Even the rejected Ben Stokes briefly got in on the act before he was packed off to join the England Lions, out of the limelight in South Africa to prevent further embarrassment.

You suspect England won't need much help in following Broad's Twitter advice to #stay #humble by the end of this World Cup. Pietersen's absence won't do that ambition any harm, but it'll be of little consolation to the sleep-deprived and uninspired back home.

Probably a good job, then, that many fans earning the minimum wage can't afford the subscription to watch it live.

Max Benson

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