England have never won an ICC Champions Trophy title since its inception in 1998, they were on the brink of scripting history in 2013 but lost the battle in the ultimate stages of the final. They once again stand a golden opportunity of winning the title and also have the home advantage to their benefit. England are undoubtedly one of the strongest contenders in the current edition and boast of a solid side. But the only chink in their armor lies in bowling with Chris Woakes’ side strain has led to rule him out of the tournament.
England played their opening game against Bangladesh on June 1 and won it comfortably by eight wickets. Though this emphatic win may have camouflages their weakness in bowling, England need to buckle up in this department as there is hardly any room for error in the tournament. In the inaugural encounter, England won the toss and elected to field first but their bowlers had a tough time in chipping wickets at regular intervals leave alone early wickets.
Their bowlers didn’t manage to exploit the conditions to the fullest in the start and gave enough breathing space to Bangladeshi batsmen to settle down. Although they did reasonably well in pulling things back in the death overs but have to pull u their socks if they are eyeing the title. Bangladesh were well placed at 261 for 2 inside 45 overs and looked good for a score bigger than what they eventually achieved. A horrible batting collapse saw Bangladesh just posting 305 runs on the board and were short of 20-30 runs.
Liam Plunkett was outstanding with the ball in the death overs broke the Bangladeshi spine by getting rid of a well set Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal in the same over. Although one would say that England had enough firepower in their batting to chase down a target of 350 also, but there will be times when their batting will falter and bowling will have to step up. Bangladesh accelerated a bit late in the innings and failed to hold on when thy finally did.
England’s pace attack, minus Woakes, boasts of Mark Wood, Jake Ball, Ben Stokes, David Willey and Liam Plunkett. Woakes, who had a magnificent run in the recently concluded Indian Premier League, looked good in his first two overs. He bowled a maiden but a side strain didn’t let him put in the hard yards. Ultimately, he will not feature in the tournament anymore and this is a huge setback for England as he’s well known for his brilliant display in death overs. Yes, England do have the options to replace Woakes, but his absence will take sheen off English attack to a great extent.
Jake Ball has immense talent and potential but lacks experience and the matter is quite same with Mark Wood as well, who has calibre under his belt but no reasonable international experience. Only Ben Stokes and Liam Plunkett have substantial experience in their basket, which won’t be enough in the latter stages of the tournament.
But again, Stokes will make for a competent third pacer and Plunkett at times can be threatening but not always. David Willey is their second best option but once again no experience in his kitty. England are not even lucky to have a prolific and consistent spinner in their squad. They have the likes of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid along with part-timer Joe Root in the attack. Ali has done well with the ball but doesn’t have the impact of a frontline spinner, Adil Rashid has been very inconsistent and erratic and it wouldn’t be just to judge Joe Root for his spin.
England will have to bank one their batting heavily on most of the occasions to bail them out in the tournament and the game against Bangladesh is a testament to it. Also, when England toured India earlier this year, it was their bowling that let them down. They lost the series 2-1 and one of the key reasons behind their defeat was the ineffectiveness with the ball. Their batting breached the 300-run mark without sweating it out but had too much on their shoulders to deal with.
Bangladesh were at sixes and sevens against the Indian pace attack in the warm-up game and their batting had a huge mental barrier to overcome against England, which they did. If the weakest side in the tournament can score 300+ runs against England, imagine the kind of damage Australia and New Zealand can inflict. England have evolved as a unit and have a solid chance of winning their maiden ICC Champions Trophy title and to do so their bowling have a lot of work to do. With Woakes being ruled out of the tournament, the going will not be easy for them. These are the times, which shape champions out of players.
English bowlers can rectify their errors from the first game and come out hard in their next encounter. The tournament will get tougher with every game and only two teams from a group will advance to the semi-final. England lost the 2016 World Twenty20 (T20) title in the final over, again, lack of a death over specialist splashed waters over their world T20 champions dream. They would certainly not want the history to repeat and walk home with glory this time, which they are well capable of.