Cricket World Cup 2019: Ben Stokes turning out to be the X-factor as England inch closer to maiden title

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Stokes has been England's star man in the World Cup.

It has not been a campaign without its hiccups and stutters for England but the hosts still remain on course to break their 50-over World Cup title drought.

Eoin Morgan and his men were widely regarded as the favourites heading into the World Cup but those credentials were starting to wear thin after shock defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka before a loss to Australia.

Those three defeats nearly derailed England’s semi-final ambitions with their fate hanging in the balance before their fixtures against India and New Zealand. However, the hosts responded in brilliant fashion with two comprehensive victories over their two fellow semi-finalists to keep their maiden World Cup title dream alive.

WHATS WORKING FOR THEM

Batting firepower

England’s power-packed and deep batting unit was always going to be team’s primary strength in the tournament and that has been the case so far.

The hosts have managed to scale the 300-run barrier in six of their nine innings with a 397-6 being their best batting display. Joe Root has been the glue which hold the batting unit together with the right-hander amassing 500 runs while openers Jonny Bairstow (462) and Jason Roy (341) also starting to come into their own this tournament.

The middle-order fireworks have been provided by Morgan (317) along with star all-rounder Ben Stokes (381) who is having a stellar individual campaign.

Bairstow has roared back into form.

Bairstow has roared back into form.

Archer and Wood lead strong pace attack

The introduction of Jofra Archer has also transformed England’s pace attack with the Barbados-born bowler picking up 17 wickets and counting in nine games. Not far behind Archer has been Mark Wood with the pacer cranking up the heat on his way to 16 wickets while Chris Woakes has been excellent of late with the new ball in hand.

Liam Plunkett has been an excellent foil in the middle-overs and the bowling unit has only been strengthened since his return to the playing XI.

WHERE ARE THEY STILL SUSCEPTIBLE

Chasing under pressure

While England’s batting firepower has shone on several occasions in the tournament, it has also been made to look ordinary when the pressure has been applied. The hosts are near unstoppable when it comes to batting first but their vulnerabilities and shortcomings have been exposed time and again when it comes to chasing.

Morgan’s men have won all five games where they have batted first in the World Cup but have tasted three defeats in four while chasing. They were particularly dismal in their loss to Sri Lanka where they fall short in a chase of just 233 at Headingley.

The pressure always seems to get to them in tricky run chases and it will only be amplified in the knock-out clashes with a trophy ever so close.

England remain vulnerable in the chase.

England remain vulnerable in the chase.

Spinners out of form

Their spin attack hasn’t been the most convincing as well with Adil Rashid averaging more than 54 with the ball while Moeen Ali has been out of favour since a string of poor displays.

While England will probably go in with a four-man pace attack at Edgbaston against Australia, they will need to play one spinner and the defending champions will look to target this weakness.

STAR MAN

Ben Stokes

While Root and Archer have been key with bat and ball respectively for England, it has been Stokes who has been the X-factor.

The all-rounder has been in the thick of the action with ball and bat and has always managed to put his hands up when the chips have been down for his team.

Seven wickets with the ball and 317 runs with the bat have been Stokes’ key contributions so far and he has already played match-winning knocks against South Africa and India. He was unfortunate to end up on the losing side against Australia after a valiant 89-run knock.

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Cricket World Cup 2019: India and New Zealand lock horns on batting track at Old Trafford

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The Old Trafford pitch will witness Trent Boult’s dangerous in-swingers and Jasprit Bumrah’s fiery yorkers on Tuesday as an upbeat India take on a shaky Kiwi side in the 2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final.

The historic pitch, which has played host to World Cup games in the 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1999 editions, will be the venue where one of the finalists of the 2019 edition will be declared.

We take a look at what the pitch has in store for both sides, based on what it has produced throughout the tournament.

Great surface to bat on

India v Pakistan - ICC Champions Trophy

Old Trafford has been one of the best batting surfaces of the tournament. Of the 10 innings played here across five games, only one has seen a team score fewer than 200 runs. We have witnessed four 50+ scores, including England’s 397 against Afghanistan.

The team batting first has won the game on all five occasions at this pitch. The decision following the toss should hence be a no-brainer.

The teams batting first has also averaged 323.4 at Old Trafford in this World Cup. Although England’s massive score against Afghanistan skews the average, the fact that the team batting first has registered 290+ scores on four of the five occasions is a testimony to this being a batsman’s pitch.

Openers have put on big scores on this pitch and have provided their team great starts. Both the Kiwis openers registering ducks against West Indies could count as probably the only occasion when the team batting first started off horribly. That shows just how out-of-form New Zealand’s openers have been – they will therefore need to start off cautiously regardless.

Pacers over spinners?

Pacers have accounted for 62 of the 76 wickets that have fallen on this pitch. Spinners have scalped just 12 times and there have been two run-outs. The fact that pacers have had a massive share of the overs and have hence been able to pick up more wickets on this surface can’t be ignored.

But teams have generally chosen to go with extra pacers, often at the cost of a spinner. This paints a story of how the pitch is more likely to favour the fast bowlers. Pakistan attacked India with three pacers and four spinners and the Men in Blue cruised comfortably to the second-highest score at this ground – 336-5 – at this World Cup. The spinners failed to pick up a single wicket and pacer Mohammad Amir was the only bowler who made any impact.

Youngster Rashid Khan went for 110 runs in nine overs against England in what was definitely his worst performance to date. All other games have seen teams making the best use of the pacers.

TrentBoultNZSA2 (1)

The contest between Boult and Bumrah could hence prove to be a cracker of a contest. Spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Mitchell Santner could play a key role in controlling the run-rate in the middle overs and are hence crucial for their team’s chances.

There have been no particular trends regarding how economical the bowlers have been in the last five games here. The pacers have averaged an economy rate of 5.66 but the spinners (6.00) have not been too expensive either.

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Cricket World Cup 2019: Mitchell Starc, openers leading Australia's march but Edgbaston record a worry

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Starc has been immense for Australia.

It has been some campaign so far for Australia in the 2019 ICC World Cup with Aaron Finch and his men setting up a blockbuster semi-final clash against hosts England at Edgbaston on Thursday.

The defending champions had been in a rut in the ODI format throughout 2018, but they have turned things around in style with the returns of their star performers David Warner and Steve Smith.

Defeats to India and South Africa have been the only blots in Australia’s stellar campaign which has included impressive wins over England, New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan.

The five-time champions started their campaign in indifferent fashion but have been getting better with each passing game. A record sixth title is now looking like a real possibility for the Aussies who have won all seven of their previous semi-final meetings in the World Cup.

WHAT IS WORKING FOR THEM

Openers in prime form

Having one of the most balanced squads in the tournament has been one of Australia’s biggest strengths with the side firing on all fronts.

Openers Finch and Warner have already registered more than 1,100 runs between them and have laid the foundation for many strong starts. The duo’s contributions at the top have been complemented nicely by an able support cast comprising Alex Carey in the middle-order as well as Usman Khawaja, though he has now been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

Both openers have been at their very best.

Both openers have been at their very best.

Starc back to his best

The formidable batting displays have been backed up by a fearsome bowling unit spearheaded by Mitchell Starc. The Aussie pacer is leading the wicket-taking charts by some distance with 24 scalps to his name in just eight outings.

Starc’s partnership with Pat Cummins has been a solid one with the younger pacer himself chipping in with 12 wickets while Jason Behrendorff’s left-arm seam has emerged as another potent threat in the more recent outings.

Resilient spirit

Finch’s men have also displayed tremendous resilience to bail themselves out of some tricky situations. They lost five early wickets to the Windies but still managed to recover and ultimately post a match-winning total of 288. They struggled at times against Pakistan and New Zealand before eventually bouncing back to win both games.

They seemed down and out in a chase of 326 against the Proteas at 119-4 but still nearly got over the finish line following the heroics of Warner and Carey.

WHERE ARE THEY STILL SUSCEPTIBLE

Lack of spin threat

While the batting and pace departments are looking good for Australia, the same cannot be said about their spin unit. Adam Zampa was preferred as the specialist spinner in the early stages of the tournament but some expensive displays by the leggie have seen him drop out of the playing XI.

Instead, it has been Test stalwart Nathan Lyon who has been operating in the spinner’s slot in the more recent outings but he has been more of an economical bowler than a wicket-taking threat.

Injuries

They have also been hit by injuries lately with Khawaja being ruled out of the tournament while Marcus Stoinis is facing a race to be fit in time for the semi-final. Khawaja has been a solid performer and his place will now have to be filled by either Peter Handscomb or Matthew Wade.

Edgbaston horror record

The defending champions have not won an international match at Edgbaston since 2001 when they beat England in the Ashes. In fact, their last ODI victory at the ground came all the way back in 1993.

They are winless in their last 14 matches across all formats at Edgbaston while the hosts have been in imperious form at the venue of late.

STAR MAN

Mitchell Starc

There have been several key performers for Australia but Starc has been head and shoulders above the rest with what has been a terrific individual campaign.

The left-armed pacer has not played much bilateral ODI cricket over the past two years but he definitely knows how to turn it on at the World Cup stage.

After finishing as the top wicket-taker in the 2015 edition, Starc is well on course to perform an encore in England with 24 scalps and counting already. His yorkers have been on point and the one to clean-bowl Ben Stokes with has arguably been the delivery of the tournament to date.

No other bowler in history has picked up as many World Cup five-wicket hauls as Starc (three) and he is bound to play a key role in the semi-finals.

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