There have been many unlikely aspects to England's reinvention as a one-day powerhouse - the unfettered batting, the sense of enjoyment, the surprising lack of selection bloopers - but among them must rank the team's reliance on a pair of spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Both have thrived under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan, giving England options and balance as their quest for that elusive first World Cup reaches its defining moment.
"Mo'n'Rash". That's how they are known in the dressing room, a portmanteau that confirms their status as a twosome by default. A couple of British Asians completely at home in England colours, they are quiet, humble men by nature, and central to the team's fortunes - to the extent that debate about who should be the squad's back-up spinner (Liam Dawson edged out Joe Denly) occupied the selectors almost as much as the Jofra Archer question.
The feats of England's batsmen tend to dominate discussions about their charge to the No. 1 ODI ranking, but while the bowling has proved more erratic, there is no doubting the effectiveness of Rashid in particular. First capped as a diffident 21-year-old, he made his comeback after five and a half years out of the ODI team in Dublin (technically under the captaincy of James Taylor) following the 2015 World Cup; last summer, as Morgan's England set about dismantling reigning world champions Australia 5-0, Rashid moved past Graeme Swann to become his country's most prolific spinner in the format.
Though very much the foil, Moeen has also had more success than most English tweakers, moving steadily past the likes of Ashley Giles, James Tredwell and John Emburey (albeit with a much higher average). As a partnership, meanwhile, Moeen and Rashid have carved out an unprecedented role in England's one-day cricket - their combined record of 170 wickets in matches played together making them six times more effective than the next-best pairing.
Swann himself is in no doubt about how important the two are. "Spin plays a massive role in England, those 20 overs in the middle," Swann said to ESPNcricinfo. "And one of the reasons England have been very strong recently has been the spin of Ali and Rashid. I'm very excited that England have got a very strong spin department going into this World Cup.
"I think [Rashid's] form has been brilliant over the last couple of years. He's got a very clever game in one-day cricket, he's very comfortable with the white ball. I think England are favourites to win the World Cup on home turf, and I think he'll have a big World Cup."
So England have finally worked out that picking a spinner (or two) and sticking with them is a good idea. Big whoop, hey? But it doesn't stop there: Rashid is the leading wicket-taker in all ODI cricket since the last World Cup. He has played more games, true, but then you might also point out that 88 of the 125 wickets pilfered by Rashid Khan, No. 2 on the list, came against Ireland and Zimbabwe. What is not in doubt is that Adil Rashid's licence to take wickets (and not worry about his economy) has been a key aspect of the high-wire approach favoured by England.
Wristspin is king in the modern white-ball game, as shown by the presence of Imran Tahir, Kuldeep Yadav and, further down, Yuzvendra Chahal on that list (India, of course, have a twin spin threat of their own). England's twist lies in being able to also deploy a classical offspinner, whose stock delivery turns the other way to Rashid's, while not weakening the batting (Moeen opened for England at the last World Cup).
Few allrounders are as mercurial as Moeen, but Morgan knows his best can be match-winning: last summer he claimed his best bowling figures, 4 for 46 against Australia, while in 2017 he rocked up and thrashed a 53-ball hundred against West Indies.
The theory of relativity
Among the most successful spinners over the last four years, Rashid's strike rate of 31.7 puts him among the leading pack - if a little way off his Afghan namesake - but his economy is on the high side, with only Adam Zampa leaking runs at an equivalent rate. Moeen's figures (SR 57.8, econ 5.40) are less noteworthy, but both are reflective of England's modus operandi since they overhauled their one-day game in 2015.
In short, England back themselves to score more than the opposition. With the ball, there is an acceptance that containment isn't possible, so wickets are sought instead - meaning Rashid can go at 5.61 an over without being concerned about the need to tighten up. Furthermore, although he and Moeen are both relatively expensive as far spinners go, they are both among England's three most economical bowlers (if you overlook Steven Finn, who hasn't played an ODI since 2017).
Morgan's view of Rashid as a strike weapon was clear early on. Against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 2015, during the run-filled series that heralded England's transformation, Morgan brought on his legspinner to bowl the 48th over; though Rashid was hauled for 28 runs by Mitchell Santner, the captain kept faith and Rashid closed out the innings with a wicket and five runs from the 50th. (England subsequently chased their target of 350 with seven wickets and six overs to spare.)
More spectacularly, in Grenada in March, four wickets in the 48th over ended West Indies' hopes of chasing 418 to win - and gave Rashid the most expensive five-for in ODI history, too. In the first ODI of that series, with Chris Gayle running amok, Morgan held Rashid back until the 34th over before bowling him through for 9-0-74-3. England again pulled of a successful record chase.
Moeen, meanwhile, is more likely to be brought on in the Powerplay if the opposition have started quickly against the new ball, either to try to burgle a wicket or slow down the rate. Although Morgan does not often bowl them in tandem, Moeen's presence at the other end also increases Rashid's control - reducing his economy by half a run an over.
Their mutual mojo was in evidence in the final match of the series against Pakistan this month. Rashid's insouciant backhand to run out Babar Azam was followed by a brilliant return catch against Shoaib Malik, while Moeen was bowling when Sarfraz Ahmed was run out through Jos Buttler's instinctive bit of work behind the stumps. And although Moeen's figures of 10-0-63-0 may have looked distinctly underwhelming, in a chase of 352 they were tidy enough.
Eight months older and already established in the team, Moeen also seems to have played a vital role in ensuring Rashid's second England stint would not go unfulfilled, often acting as a conduit when Morgan wants to get a message across. With their background and shared culture, it is perhaps unsurprising that the strength of their bond has only enhanced the importance of Mo'n'Rash within the England dressing room. And Moeen believes the world is about to see how good his friend really is.
"I actually don't think he does [get the credit he deserves]," Moeen told ESPNcricinfo. "Everyone knows he's a very good spinner but they never talk about him as one of the great spinners, which I think he is for England - particularly in the one-day stuff. I can't think of a better spinner who played for England than him. I see the guy day in, day out, and I've never come across a spinner who's got more skill than Rash. I think this will be his World Cup."
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman