As England approach their final fixture of the ICC Champions Trophy group stage, a few things are becoming quite clear: India are the team to beat, England’s bowling attack isn’t as convincing in the shorter format and Joe Root will be integral to any success England has for years to come.
That isn’t to say that he has been in sparkling form for the whole tournament – he could only muster 12 runs against Australia before his infamous night at a Birmingham bar – but his impressive response of 68 from 55 balls against Sri Lanka proves he has quality and maturity way beyond his experience. It is this character and ability, which could see him shine in the Ashes this summer.
Perhaps the biggest surprise package for England has been Ravi Bopara’s batting excellence. After ending the innings at 46 not out against Australia, he followed that up with an incredible 28 runs in the final over against Sri Lanka to set a difficult target of 294 to win.
The target was difficult but the Sri Lankans achieved it with seven wickets and three overs to spare. The bowling attack of the home nation couldn’t deal with an on-form Kumar Sangakkara as he fired 134 runs to propel his team to an unlikely victory, leaving England with the difficult task of beating New Zealand, who defeated Sri Lanka, if they are to progress in the trophy on their own patch.
England may be stuttering through the round robin, but India are on fire. After beating South Africa by 26 runs, they defeated the West Indies by eight wickets in the 40th over. Shikhar Dhawan has led the charge, hitting 216 runs in just two games. The Indian side are the first to qualify for the semi-finals and look good for a second Champions Trophy title.
This year’s tournament will be the last as the Champions Trophy is set to be replaced by the ICC World Test Championship in 2017 – which sees the 50 over format replaced by a 10-team tournament competing in test fixtures.
England have never won the Champions Trophy so this is their last chance to do so and they’ve never had a better chance. Reigning champions Australia are in a torrid transition phase; never before has an England side been expected to win an Ashes series like they are set to this summer, and they comfortably beat the Aussies in their earlier group fixture.
Add in to the mix the fact that England have the home advantage in the tournament and it’s clear that they are performing below expectation so far.
If Alistair Cook’s side can find a way past New Zealand by rediscovering their bowling rhythm and maintaining the batting consistency of star performers Trott, Root and Bopara then they should be aiming for the final. But the team must improve. Against Sri Lanka, England rode their luck as the opposition dropped a string of catches, whilst the bowling attack was powerless to stop Sangakkara.
Should England make it further, they could well face an India side which looks unstoppable at present and would be the biggest obstacle in the way of success for the host nation.