Cricket World Cup: How do England stand before this summer’s tournament?
The contrasting arguments as to whether England will or will not win the World Cup on home soil this summer have been crystallised in the space of two matches in three days in the West Indies.
Those in the ‘definitely will win it’ camp will reference Wednesday’s spectacular victory in the fourth one-day international in Grenada, which saw England post 418-6 – the highlight being Jos Buttler’s incredible 150 off just 77 balls.
And those in the ‘definitely won’t win it’ camp saw their argument validated in the fifth ODI on Saturday as England were bowled out for 113 before the hosts knocked off their small target in just 12.1 overs.
Very few subscribe to an opinion somewhere in the middle.
Here BBC Sport picks through the wreckage of England’s latest defeat – which was labelled “embarrassing” by coach Trevor Bayliss – before assessing some of the reasons why it could yet be English cricket’s most memorable white-ball summer.
England undone by bouncing ball
When England were bowled out for 113 in the final match of their last ODI series overseas before the World Cup (they have another eight ODIs to play – including one in Ireland – before the tournament begins for proper on 30 May), few could have said they were surprised.
“The gulf between our good matches in this series and our bad one is huge,” Bayliss told the Test Match Special podcast.
“We’ve been trying to be more consistent but today was a very poor performance. The only explanation is this wicket is the type we don’t play a lot on – it had a lot of bounce in it.
“There’s no wickets like this in England. It was the steepness of the bounce which we don’t often get to face.
“After only a few overs and a few wickets it was obvious with the bouncing ball, we’d have to let a few go and a score of 200 would see us right in the match.
“We just went out and carried on playing exactly the same and made the same mistakes and got the same result.
“I’ve seen the guys disappointed before but in the changing room today I think there’s a bit of embarrassment.”
Bayliss’ frustration stems from the fact this has happened before.
Last summer England lost against Scotland, while in 2017 they fell flat in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy after a 100% record in the group stage – Pakistan bowling out the tournament hosts for 211 as England’s batsmen struggled to adapt to the slower conditions.
Speaking after that match, captain Eoin Morgan said: “The fact we’ve produced brilliant performances in this tournament and then played like that on this wicket is extremely disappointing.”
Also that summer, England had fallen to 20-6 in an ODI against South Africa at Lord’s as their top order continually played ill-advised shots against the swinging ball.
Does it all sound familiar?
But aren’t England untouchable on their day?
England are favourites to win the World Cup this summer, despite having failed to win a knockout match in the 50-over competition since 1992.
“Other people have put us down as favourites for the World Cup – and yes, we are one of the favourites – but five or six teams could win the tournament,” Bayliss said.
But why do they carry such expectation?
Put simply, they generally score more than anyone else and at a faster rate. Bowling wise, nobody has taken more wickets in one-day cricket since the last World Cup than leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
As a batting unit, they stand head and shoulders above the rest – no other team can boast a runs per over average in excess of six since the last World Cup in 2015.
But is such an attacking mindset also their Achilles heel?
Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes so, telling BBC Radio 5 live on Monday: “England, I expect, will finish in the top four at the World Cup. I have them as favourites to win the World Cup.
“They have got everything in terms of ability. They have everything that is required apart from the fact they are prone to a moment of madness.”
That moment of madness materialised just days later in St Lucia, and Vaughan tweeted: “I never won a World Cup – didn’t get close – but watching teams who do win World Cups, they don’t just whack it all the time on all surfaces.
“They play smart, clever cricket. This England World Cup campaign needs a realisation check that they need to add smartness!”
Which opinion should we believe?
Both sides of the argument are persuasive. And, it goes without saying, subjective.
England captain Morgan is positive such blips are building up a muscle memory-style knowledge bank which will help his squad this summer.
Speaking on Saturday, he said: “We don’t play on surfaces like that too that often, which leans us to more of a learning mentality of how can we get better at this if we do come up against it in the World Cup if it is a hot summer at home (pitches generally become drier, faster and bouncier if the weather is hotter).
“In the past when we have lost on wickets we have not been used to, we have got better the more we played on them. That is an encouraging sign.
“On today’s performance we have got to look at it as a learning curve because the mistakes we made… we can’t make them again.”