Chris Waters – Time is right for England to claim World Cup crown

Kitted out: England's, from lef, Liam Plunkett, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.
Kitted out: England's, from lef, Liam Plunkett, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.
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IF anything epitomises England’s strength going into the World Cup that starts on Thursday it is the fact that David Willey, the Yorkshire all-rounder and very much the epitome of the modern, all-action white-ball player, was not included in the final 15.

Instead, Willey is on standby for a competition in which he might yet still be needed; six-and-a-half weeks, after all, is plenty of time for injuries to bite and to disturb the best laid plans of national selector Ed Smith and company.

KEY MAN: England's Jonny Bairstow. Picture: Nigel French/PA

KEY MAN: England's Jonny Bairstow. Picture: Nigel French/PA

But if Willey cannot get a gig, a man who has played an important part in England’s rise to No 1 in the rankings since the last World Cup in 2015, then the message is clear.

Namely, as Smith quite rightly said last week, that “this squad is good enough to win the World Cup”.

Smith, whose panel instead opted for a pace quintet of Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran, nevertheless added this important caveat... “But there are no guarantees in elite sport, we know that.”

Although I personally dislike the term “elite sport” and, for that matter, “elite athlete”, which suggests to me a hint of arrogance (after all, we do not refer to talented people in other walks of life as “elite doctors and nurses”, for example, or “elite train drivers”), Smith is also right to say that there are no guarantees.

England could quite easily win the World Cup – they are the competition favourites after all – or, as the pessimists would doubtless caution, they will find a way to stuff it up somehow.

Sport – “elite” or otherwise – keeps us coming back for more precisely because of its enduring uncertainty; why, even Manchester City have been known to lose the odd football match from time to time.

To these eyes, it all comes down to whether England’s team of all the talents can handle the expectation on their shoulders and deliver when it truly counts – in the knockout stages, if one assumes progress from the group phase (and we all know it is dangerous to assume anything).

Either their eight-wicket defeat to Pakistan in the semi-final of the home 2017 Champions Trophy, for which they were also favourites, is a warning of what may happen again or, more optimistically, a big lesson learned.

Back then, England were undone by a slow pitch in Cardiff and failed to adapt quickly enough to the conditions; adaptability, in fact, has been their Achilles heel in an otherwise fully-functioning body.

Put simply, it is about recognising that there are times, say, when 300 might be a good score on a particular pitch as opposed to going all-out in an effort to score 350. Certainly, one would expect England to have learned from that disappointing experience of two years ago.

If they can marry nous with skill, which they possess in abundance, it will certainly take a very good team to stop them in their tracks.

Although practically every side is capable of winning the tournament, which is what makes it so fascinating and difficult to predict, England will surely never have a better opportunity to lift their first World Cup.

There is definitely a sense that this is their time, perhaps a once-in-a-generation chance at that.

For the past four years, England have been working purposefully towards this moment. The talent in the squad is clear to see.

In Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, England have opening batsmen who can dazzle and destroy.

Joe Root is the reliable rock on which the batting is built, while captain Eoin Morgan is another brilliant strokeplayer along with the incredible Jos Buttler.

Throw in Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, along with the bowlers previously listed, and England have quality in every department and all bases covered.

The fact that everyone can bat right down to No 11 also gives them a formidable depth.

England have not always got their selections right in recent years, particularly in Test cricket, but I think that Smith and co have got this one about right.

Yes, there was an argument for picking Willey for his left-arm variation but, then again, Messrs Archer, Woakes and Wood are hardly slouches with the new ball.

It may yet be that Willey still features.

Either way, an England squad that can afford to do without him is one to be feared indeed.