Cricket World Cup 2019

In-form hosts upbeat, excited

England captain Eoin Morgan and his Indian counterpart Virat Kohli at a press conference last week in London. The hosts are the title favourites, with the 2011 champions right behind them in the betting stakes. PHOTO: REUTERS
England captain Eoin Morgan and his Indian counterpart Virat Kohli at a press conference last week in London. The hosts are the title favourites, with the 2011 champions right behind them in the betting stakes. PHOTO: REUTERS

Top-ranked England fancied to finally break duck, Morgan wants team to relish challenge

LONDON • England captain Eoin Morgan has urged his side to enjoy the pressure and expectation that comes with hosting the Cricket World Cup when the favourites launch the showpiece event against South Africa at the Oval today.

Their last warm-up match saw them rout Afghanistan by nine wicket at the venue on Monday, when they dismissed the outsiders for just 160 before reaching their target in fewer than 18 overs.

The Dubliner was back in the side after recovering from a finger injury, but took no active part as he did not field and was not required to bat in an England innings where opener Jason Roy scored 89 not out.

England, top of the one-day international rankings, won 4-0 at home to Pakistan in a recent series before a team missing several first-choice players suffered a 12-run warm-up defeat by world champions Australia in Southampton on Saturday.

"We have felt ready the last week or so, even if we didn't play these warm-up games," said Morgan.

"As a whole, I was very happy with the preparation. When you play as convincingly as that, it builds confidence in the hard work you've done both in training and in the game and the other side of it is that it gives us the afternoon and evening to switch off - not playing another close game against a strong side."

Now Morgan has urged England to relish the challenge of facing the Proteas first up in the World Cup.

"Everyone is going to feel that anticipation and excitement of playing the first game and it will be different than any other day and I will be encouraging guys to embrace it," he said.

As well as Morgan's clean bill of health, England were also boosted on Monday by the news that fast bowler Mark Wood had been passed fit following fears over a possible recurrence of a longstanding left ankle injury.

A limp first-round departure at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the catalyst for a transformation in England's white-ball game based on aggressive batting, as exemplified by Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.

England are even threatening to smash the 500-run barrier for the first time in an ODI innings, having set a record total of 481 for six against Australia in Nottingham last year.

And their attack now has an extra threat in recently qualified Barbados-born fast bowler Jofra Archer.

England have never won the tournament, with the last of their three losing appearances in the final coming in 1992, and will fear a Virat Kohli-inspired India and a hungry Australia.

But there is a growing sense their current crop of players can end 45 years of pain.

While the hosts boasting a plethora of big-hitting white-ball specialists, India are also packed with superstars who have honed their skills in the Indian Premier League.

Reigning champions Australia, who won their fifth title in 2015, are boosted by the returns of star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner after both served bans for their role in a ball-tampering scandal.

New Zealand and South Africa will also harbour hopes of World Cup glory in the 10-team May 30-July 14 tournament, in which each side will play all the others to decide the semi-finalists.

Pakistan, winners in 1992, can never be ruled out and West Indies, featuring self-styled "Universe Boss" Chris Gayle for possibly the final time in ODIs, will fancy their chances of a first triumph since 1979.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2019, with the headline 'In-form hosts upbeat, excited'. Print Edition | Subscribe