Trevor Bayliss has challenged his England one-day cricketers to embrace the notion that they are favourites to win the World Cup in England in 2019, in a bid to pre-empt the pressure and expectation that will be generated by their impressive development in the 50-over format.
England completed the bilateral leg of their tour of Australia with a 4-1 ODI series win, and have now lost just three ODIs out of 22 in the past year. Overall in that format, they have won nine out of the 12 series since Bayliss took over as coach in July 2015 to cement their status as the world's leading exponents.
"The way we have been playing one-day cricket over the last few years and the way we continue to play, and obviously with the World Cup at home, we should be one of the favourites," Bayliss told reporters at the conclusion of the Australia ODIs. "Only time will tell how we handle that but, if we go in to all of the series between now and that World Cup thinking we are favourites, then that will be good practice for us and we will see how the players react."
England's achievement in Australia was all the more impressive given that they were able to make light of the absence of their leading allrounder, Ben Stokes, who has been unavailable throughout the winter following his arrest in Bristol in September. Stokes had originally been slated for a recall during the forthcoming T20 triangular against Australia and New Zealand, but that has had to be pushed back due to a court appearance on February 13.
However, while Bayliss welcomed the impending return of Stokes, he warned that he might have to wait his turn to slot back into the side, given how well his team-mates have covered for his absence. In particular, the top three of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales have taken turns to impress in recent months, with Roy breaking Hales' England one-day record score in the first ODI at Melbourne. And in the bowling stakes, Tom Curran's match-winning five-wicket haul in the series finale at Perth marked the arrival of a player who deserves to compete for a regular spot in the side.
"It is a good problem and he might not fit back in straight away," Bayliss said of Stokes. "I do know that everyone knows he is coming back in the team at some stage and that keeps everyone on their toes trying to score runs and put their name forward to make sure they are not the ones who get pushed aside when he comes back.
"We have had a very stable team over the last couple of years. We have had one or two different guys coming in and the good thing is that we have got competition for spots. It is not just the 11. It is 14, 15, 16 guys that can come into the team and play a part. That's very healthy for the team."
One player who didn't quite hit the high notes in Australia, with the bat at least, was the captain Eoin Morgan, who emerged with a top score of 41 in the five-match series. However, Morgan's captaincy was exceptional throughout - particularly in the final three matches, in which England overcame the loss of Liam Plunkett to a hamstring injury at Sydney, almost fought back from a scoreline of 8 for 5 at Adelaide, then successfully defended a sub-par 259 at Perth.
"From a batting point of view, Morgs is one of those guys who goes through a bit of a spell like that and then out of the blue he comes in and makes a heap of runs," Bayliss said. "His role as captain, and the way this team is playing, he is at the forefront of that. He is the one that leads that. He is a very important part of this team. The way he has led this team out here I thought was fantastic, especially that Sydney match when we were down a bowler. The way he handled the bowling group then was top class.
"He always talks to the boys about backing themselves and their ability and the way they always play and he leads from the front. If he is going through a bit of a lean trot, which batters do, he still goes out and tries to play that same way. Every now and then he goes out and hits a few in the middle and suddenly you are back in form. He is the one leading the pack. That is the good thing about this team. We have got seven batters that are able to make hundreds in one-day cricket. He is one of them."