YORKSHIRE captain Andrew Gale is backing Joe Root to light up the World Cup and believes England could spring a surprise at the tournament.
Gale said his county colleague Root could be England’s trump card after he starred in the one-day series in Sri Lanka.
Gale also sympathised with Alastair Cook, whose position as captain will today dominate discussion when the England selectors meet to pick the World Cup squad ahead of tomorrow’s announcement.
Cook admitted he could have “no complaints” if sacked after the 5-2 defeat in Sri Lanka – England’s fourth successive ODI series loss on his watch – but the selectors have so far backed him to the hilt.
Root, who would be a contender to replace Cook should the selectors make an 11th-hour switch, along with Eoin Morgan and Stuart Broad, was one of the few plus points for England in Sri Lanka.
The 23-year-old scored 367 runs at 73.4 – way ahead of England’s next most productive batsman Moeen Ali (236 runs).
Gale, who has watched Root’s development at close quarters at Headingley, believes his team-mate could flourish on the World Cup stage.
He said Root’s performances – along with those of such as Moeen Ali, James Taylor and Chris Woakes – offer hope that England could yet do well in the competition in Australia and New Zealand in February and March.
“Joe could be the man who sets the World Cup alight,” said Gale, who would also like to see Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan, Adil Rashid and Gary Ballance in World Cup contention.
“He had a fantastic series out in Sri Lanka.
“He’s maturing with every game and he looked like the senior player over there.
“There’s no reason why he can’t go to Australia and be the man who puts up his hand and wins games for England.”
Following their poor showing on the subcontinent, England are even less fancied to win the World Cup.
However, a format that makes qualification for the knockout stages probable, with England only needing to finish in the top-four of a seven-strong group that includes Afghanistan, Scotland and Bangladesh to reach the last eight, means they could yet still realistically prosper.
“No one’s expecting England to do anything, but if they can get their selection right, I think they could slip under the radar,” said Gale.
“They could be one of those sides that springs a surprise and slips through the net.
“If they can get on a run, and if the likes of Rooty, Alex Hales and Moeen Ali hit form, they could go on to have a really good tournament.
“I don’t think they’re going to blow teams away or anything like that, but they could do well if they go and play freely.”
Much could depend on how England start with the bat, which is often a weakness in ODI games.
Cook has managed only one-half century in his last 22 ODI innings – his recent Test record is hardly much better – and he has struggled to give the side a solid platform.
As a captain himself, Gale knows only too well the pressures of leadership, particularly if one’s own form takes a dip.
The boot is flying into Cook from left, right and centre, but Gale said he just feels sorry for the man.
“I feel for Alastair because I know how much of a great guy he is,” said Gale.
“There’s no worse feeling when you’re a captain leading the side and you’re finding it hard to lead from the front.
“It’s easy to end up trying too hard, and sometimes it’s better to take yourself out of that pressure situation.
“Maybe a series off, or a World Cup off, you might see a rejuvenated character, but he is obviously keen to play his full part.
“It’s a difficult one. Alastair’s record speaks for itself over the years and, as I say, I sympathise with him.
“It’s going to be difficult for the selectors, but they’ve backed him up to now.”
Whoever captains England, who will warm up for the competition with a tri-series in Australia next month against the hosts and India, Gale believes Australia are World Cup favourites.
Australia are the world’s No 1-ranked ODI side and they recently thrashed South Africa 4-1; they will take some stopping with or without their own captain, Michael Clarke, who is struggling with his back and hamstring.
“Australia will be the team to beat,” said Gale.
“They’ve got all bases covered at the minute and they know their own grounds, they know their own pitches.
“They’ve been smart with selection over the last few years and they’re playing a good brand of cricket.
“They seem to be playing with plenty of confidence.”
However, nothing is certain in knockout cricket and Gale concluded: “At the same time, there will be pressure on sides like Australia, India and South Africa for sure.
“They’ll be expected to do well, and there’ll be huge pressure from back home on the likes of India.
“If we’re honest, no one is expecting anything much from England.
“Fingers crossed, that could work in our favour.”