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Final countdown: How might England line up for their World Cup defence?

England don't play another ODI until September. Have they worked out their best XI yet?

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
07-Mar-2023
In six months' time, England will name a provisional 15-man squad for their 50-over World Cup defence in India. Few of the candidates for inclusion will play another one-day game before selection: England's next ODI is against New Zealand on September 8, and their domestic List A competition is played in parallel with the Hundred, the short-form tournament which features the country's leading white-ball players.
While performances in other formats - particularly the upcoming IPL - will have some bearing on who makes the cut, the general outline of the squad is unlikely to change significantly. With scope for manoeuvre over the next six months, here is ESPNcricinfo's probable England World Cup XV, a squad which features nine players who were involved four years ago.

1. Jonny Bairstow

ODI career: 95 caps, 3634 runs at 46.58, SR 104.12
Bairstow has only recently started running again after the freak injury he sustained six months ago, and its severity means that a seamless return to fitness and form should not be taken for granted. But if he is anywhere near his best when he returns, Bairstow is an automatic selection as England's opener - not least in India, where his prowess against spin should come to the fore.

2. Dawid Malan

ODI career: 18 caps, 769 runs at 54.92, SR 93.09
Malan has been the biggest beneficiary of England's sporadic ODI winter, making three hundreds in nine appearances including a calculated, match-winning 114 not out in Mirpur last week. He will turn 36 before the start of the World Cup and has harnessed his extensive experience since making his England white-ball debut in 2017. As he did in T20Is, he has taken almost every opportunity he has been given in 50-over cricket, to the extent that he could even be marginally ahead of Jason Roy in the pecking order to open the batting.

3. Joe Root

ODI career: 158 caps, 6207 runs at 50.05, SR 86.93
A victim of England's relentless schedule, Root has only batted a dozen times in ODIs since the 2019 World Cup final, averaging 35.10 without scoring a hundred. But he remains an automatic selection when available, offering the perfect foil for England's more destructive players while playing a high-tempo, low-risk game himself. Two months at the IPL with Rajasthan Royals should provide ideal preparation, whether or not he plays regularly.

4. Jos Buttler (capt/wk)

ODI career: 165 caps, 4647 runs at 41.49, SR 117.97
Another automatic selection, as captain and wicketkeeper. Buttler has generally batted at No. 5 in ODIs over the last four years, but England must ensure he has sufficient opportunity to influence every game they play at the World Cup, particularly in the knockout stages: unless they lose two early wickets, he should shuffle up to No. 4 in India.

5. Harry Brook

ODI career: 3 caps, 86 runs at 28.66, SR 98.85
Brook's 50-over record hardly demands inclusion but he will be impossible to ignore. The three ODIs he played in South Africa were his only List A games, at any level, since May 2019, but his technique and style hardly alter between four-day and T20 cricket; the middle format should be ideally suited to him. He has thrived on slow, low pitches in Pakistan, and he will inevitably learn from two months at the IPL as a marquee signing for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

6. Liam Livingstone

ODI career: 12 caps, 250 runs at 31.25, SR 122.54; 6 wickets at 24.16, ER 5.80
The highlight of Livingstone's fledgling ODI career to date is a 22-ball cameo against the Netherlands, but his versatility with bat and ball makes him an invaluable squad member. He has sometimes struggled to pace his innings, but batting at No. 6 in a 50-over game - especially in the final 10 overs, with five men out of the ring - is not far removed from the No. 4 T20 role he perfected for Punjab Kings in last year's IPL.

7. Moeen Ali

ODI career: 129 caps, 2212 runs at 25.13, SR 99.46; 99 wickets at 49.89, ER 5.28
Moeen's value to England's white-ball set-up is often underestimated due to his underwhelming overall record. His batting and bowling averages are, respectively, lower and higher than he would like, but reflect the challenges of those roles: attacking early in his innings from No. 7, and bowling defensive offbreaks with only four fielders outside the inner ring. Throw in his role as Buttler's vice-captain, and Moeen is a certain starter in India.

8. Sam Curran

ODI career: 23 caps, 318 runs at 24.46, SR 96.36; 26 wickets at 36.38, ER 5.86
Curran is difficult to leave out of an England white-ball team, whether 20 overs or 50. He has become increasingly adaptable, adept in the middle overs and at the death, and showed in the second ODI in Mirpur that he retains his potency when handed the new ball. Curran adds balance with his useful lower-order hitting, and should thrive in Indian conditions.

9. Adil Rashid

ODI career: 125 caps, 183 wickets at 32.20, ER 5.64
After a quiet 2022, Rashid was back at his best in Bangladesh, claiming eight cheap wickets to take home the Player of the Series award. Despite the emergence of Rehan Ahmed, there is no player whose absence England would feel more keenly in India; they must make sure to look after his troublesome shoulder throughout the summer.

10. Jofra Archer

ODI career: 21 caps, 42 wickets at 21.73, ER 4.80
Archer has taken 12 wickets in four ODIs since his comeback from injury, and has regularly breached the 90mph/145kph mark over the last two months. Careful management will be vital in 2023: he will lead Mumbai Indians' attack at the IPL in Jasprit Bumrah's likely absence, then could feature in the Ashes before the World Cup. England would love him to feature in both series, but need to ensure he has plenty in the tank when he arrives in India.

11. Mark Wood

ODI career: 59 caps, 71 wickets at 37.88, ER 5.42
Wood returned to England's ODI set-up after a two-year absence in Bangladesh, and the sight of him charging in and slamming the ball into the pitch in Mirpur underlined his value to the side. As with Archer, Wood's fitness record suggests he is unlikely to play every game across formats this summer; England need him in India more than they do in the Ashes, so his workload should be tailored accordingly.

12. Jason Roy

ODI career: 116 caps, 4271 runs at 39.91, SR 105.53
Roy looked like a busted flush in the 2022 summer when he endured a run of form so wretched that he lost his place in England's T20 World Cup squad. But he has re-stated his worthy credentials with hundreds against South Africa and Bangladesh this year and it will take another lean summer for him to miss out altogether. However, if Roy is likely to start on the bench behind Malan, England may consider bringing a more versatile player - like Will Jacks or Phil Salt - as their spare batter.

13. Chris Woakes

ODI career: 112 caps, 1386 runs at 24.75, SR 89.82; 160 wickets at 30.23, ER 5.45
There is a justifiable case that Woakes has been England's most reliable white-ball cricketer over the last eight years, and he is a certainty for the World Cup squad if fully fit. England will have to rotate their seamers across six or seven weeks in India; even in the event Woakes does start on the bench, he will doubtless play a role at some stage.

14. Olly Stone

ODI career: 8 caps, 8 wickets at 39.62, ER 5.98
Another player with scant 50-over experience, Stone impressed in the middle-overs enforcer role in South Africa and provides a point of difference with his high pace. He has been around England's squads across formats - and continents - this winter, and could form part of a varied pace-bowling arsenal in India.

15. Reece Topley

ODI career: 22 caps, 33 wickets at 27.03, ER 5.29
Topley struggled in South Africa and was not selected in Bangladesh - reportedly due to a minor niggle - but was England's most prolific ODI wicket-taker in the 2022 home summer. His upcoming stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore will double as a two-month apprenticeship for white-ball bowling in India.

Notable absentees

It has been widely assumed that Ben Stokes will reverse his ODI retirement as soon as Buttler and Matthew Mott come calling later this year, but his long-standing knee complaint complicates matters. If available, he will come straight back into the squad, but Stokes may view the start of the English winter as the ideal opportunity to sort his injury out for good, then use the 2024 IPL to get himself ready for the subsequent T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the US.
Several batters remain in contention. Alex Hales could be floated in at the eleventh hour but has not played a 50-over match in four years; Phil Salt, Will Jacks and James Vince did little to further their cases in Bangladesh; Ben Duckett struggled in South Africa, but may find India's pitches more suited to his methods; while Sam Billings has an impressive record but has still slipped down the pecking order since Mott's appointment.
Jacks' versatility makes him the most likely player to provide another spin option - he could replace one of the spare seamers in the squad - while Rehan Ahmed and Liam Dawson are further alternatives. Matt Parkinson appears to have fallen out of contention altogether.
David Willey, Brydon Carse and Saqib Mahmood are among the seamers who appear unlikely to form part of the squad at this stage despite recent ODI appearances, but could all mount strong cases over the next six months of short-form cricket.

Verdict: Can England go back to back?

England's recent ODI form has been patchy, but reports of their demise in the format are exaggerated. Since lifting the World Cup at Lord's in 2019, they have very rarely - if ever - fielded their full-strength side yet remain top of the ODI Super League, and have deep-seated trust in the squad that delivered the trophy four years ago.
India will be favourites in October-November, looking to become the fourth successive host nation to win the 50-over World Cup, but England will not be too far behind. They are well-placed to achieve the minimum expectations of making it through the initial round-robin stage - at which point, they will suddenly be two wins away from defending their title.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98