ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

England v Netherlands, Group B, World Cup 2011, Nagpur

England aim to prove their subcontinent credentials

Dileep Premachandran in Nagpur

February 20, 2011

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Kevin Pietersen has a bit of fun with Paul Collingwood, Nagpur, February 21, 2011
No longer a joke in Asia? England need a strong start to the tournament to demonstrate their new-found aptitude in 50-over cricket © AFP
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England's two previous experiences of the World Cup on the subcontinent couldn't have been more contrasting. Back in 1987, in what was something of a golden age for English one-day cricket, they went all the way to the Eden Gardens final and could conceivably have won it but for that stroke from Mike Gatting. Nine years later, they were a useless shower, the worst of the Test nations, losing to New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa before Sanath Jayasuriya and Sri Lanka gave them a kicking in the quarter-final.

Somewhere during that intervening decade, England forgot how to play 50-over cricket. Subsequent World Cups have been no better. Pathetic on home turf in 1999, they failed to progress from the group stages in 2003 as well. As for the last campaign in the Caribbean, there were few headlines for on-field excellence, but plenty for off-field Pedalos and Battles of the Bottle.

This, though, is not the same side. The 6-1 thrashing that they suffered in Australia has seen many write them off, but a fully fit side with key performers restored could be a very different proposition. Several of them played a huge part in the winning of the World Twenty20 last year, and Andrew Strauss, the captain, reckons that experience will have a big bearing on this six-week odyssey across the subcontinent.

"Paul Collingwood [who captained that Twenty20 side] is going to be a good sounding-board for me as he always is," he said. "It was a massive hurdle to overcome, winning that Twenty20 World Cup. It stands us in good stead for this tournament as well."

In 1987, England finished second in the group, beating mighty West Indies twice, and then ended Kapil Dev's hopes of retaining the trophy in a dramatic Mumbai semi-final dominated by Graham Gooch's precise sweeps. It's worth noting that both subcontinent World Cups were won by sides that didn't let up in intensity - Australia lost once in '87, while Sri Lanka were unbeaten in 1996 - and Strauss said that the forgiving format wouldn't be an excuse for lax displays.

"In the group matches, you can afford a slip-up or two, but I don't think any side will be approaching it in that manner," he said. "You want to win as many games as possible. Certainly from where we've come, the last month or so, the more wins the better. Once the tournament's underway, there is a bit of a buzz about things and we want to get off to a good start."

England played both warm-up games on a slow, low pitch at Fatullah, and after a narrow victory against Canada, they were extremely impressive in seeing off Pakistan. "It's all about confidence," said Strauss. "We gained quite a lot from that Pakistan game, purely because it was going back to a formula that's worked quite well for us in the past. It was familiar and it felt right. That was the basis of most of our one-day cricket over the last two years or so. We need to build on that and these group matches are an opportunity to do that."

The last time England played in India, they were blanked 5-0 before the Mumbai terror attacks caused the last two matches to be abandoned. Since Andy Flower took over as coach though, they've won 24 and lost 22, figures skewed by two 6-1 post-Ashes thrashings by Australia.

They are drawn in the tougher of the two groups, with India and South Africa among the favourites and West Indies and Bangladesh dangerous floaters. Strauss, though, isn't even looking that far ahead. "There are some strong sides in there," he said. "Ireland and the Netherlands are two strong Associate nations. They're certainly capable of a couple of upsets. The first thing is to make sure we get through the group and make the quarter-finals."

The route they take to the last eight will most likely tell us whether this team is capable of emulating the boys of '87, or whether they'll go the way of the driftwood from '96.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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