England still on track to win first World Cup but India showing depth

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I’ve not really changed my opinion on the two favourites to win the World Cup being England and India. 

But there are four in contention, two capable of springing surprises and four with too much to do.

So far they have gone pretty much how I thought. The one blip against Pakistan is hopefully their bad performance out of the way as opposed to one down the line. The one department they have lacked in previously — pace bowling — has been added to with Jofra Archer and their batting continues to be dominant.

It would be England v India at Lord’s if I had to pick a final now. They will have to make a decision at some point with their bowling. Batting remains their strength. It is deep and that helped them convert 350 into 380 against Bangladesh

Started impressively and haven’t been up against minnows — beating South Africa and Australia. They look to have every base covered.

The reported hairline fracture to opener Shikhar Dhawan’s left thumb is a massive blow as his record in England in ICC tournaments, and World Cups, is phenomenal. It will be interesting to see if they keep him around for the knockout stages.

One advantage India have is that with their wrist spinners operating so well through the middle and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah at the beginning and end, if they get 350 they feel comfortable defending it. Their old-fashioned cricket with the bat means not going too hard up front in a bid to catch up later through two of the greats, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.

Undoubtedly still in it because of the talent they have in Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc. They have shown proved to be a good side heading into this World Cup and since it got going.

Their problem is their spinner Adam Zampa. He’s ok but teams shouldn’t fear him. They also have to think about how to accommodate Usman Khawaja. When they went on their good run earlier this year, it was without Smith and Warner, and Khawaja was doing well at the top. Moving him down to four means deliveries are being used up while the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey sit with their pads on.

They have got some wonderful seamers in Trent Boult, possibly their best-ever white-ball bowlers, Matt Henry, Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson, and are well led by Kane Williamson. Brilliant in the field, and a group who have been together for a long time.

They know their plans very well. The only failing is if someone gets off to a flier against them. They sometimes can’t come back like sides such as India can. Their game is based on starting innings well. They look unsure about the balance of their XI too: whether to play two all-rounders or the extra bowler to provide more wicket-taking potential.

They will rue that loss to Australia when they had them four wickets down early and allowed another good position to slip in the run chase. They were still in Twenty20 mode when they needed to be smarter.

The reason they are world champions in T20 is because moments of brilliance can win short games. The challenge for them is to sustain those standards over a longer period of time. It can’t just be a whack-a-thon for them. Same with the bowling: the early bursts need to be paired with some sensible bowling later in the innings when it’s required. They need to embrace the other subtle skills of the 50-over game if they are to produce a challenge.

When you saw how contrastingly they played against West Indies and England, it left no doubt that once again we are seeing the world’s most mercurial team. I am not sure they know what they’re going to give you from one day to the next.

They need greater consistency. That win over England was their first in 12 games. The rained-off game against Sri Lanka was a massive blow because you don’t want the weather coming in when you are up against the lower-ranked opposition. But they are the sort of side who could go on a five-match winning streak.

South Africa have a set of cricketers slightly past their best. Hashim Amla is a prime example. Dale Steyn has not been fit, and they also lack the balance of being able to play all their frontline bowlers because they don’t bat particularly well.

I didn’t fancy Sri Lanka before a ball went down. They’ve had some of the world’s greatest white-ball players over the past three decades but I see no greats in this side, only Lasith Malinga as a fading force.

Bangladesh are very good in conditions like the Oval which has a good pitch that can just grip a bit. But the moment you get to surfaces like Cardiff with a bit of grass on it, and you need your seamers to hit a length, they are found wanting. The batting becomes vulnerable too.

Afghanistan have disappointed me. You can’t win many games from 50 for five. You still have to be wary of the likes of Rashid Khan who could have an absolute blinder with the ball but there are clearly issues going on behind the scenes, as highlighted by Mohammad Shahzad being ruled out in mysterious circumstances.

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