Sports

Cricket: England secure legacy among nation’s greatest sides

English sport usually specialises in blind hope and crushing disappointment.

  Even when the glorious highs have come, they are followed by deep lows.

  England won the football World Cup in 1966 but went out in the quarter-finals of the next, and failed to qualify for the subsequent two.

After winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003, England went eight years without winning the Six Nations.  Even on Saturday, England’s Red Roses went into their World Cup final on a 30-game winning streak but were undone by New Zealand.

With a five-wicket victory over Pakistan at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, however, England’s white-ball cricketers have secured their legacy as one of English sport’s greatest sides.

Good teams win once. Great teams back it up with another trophy.  The 2019 50-over World Cup will always stand alone as the bigger moment for England – it was at home, won in the most unlikely fashion and was the culmination of four years of transformation.

But drill into the details and this win is arguably even more impressive.  England did not have home advantage.

They began Sunday’s final without five first-team players because of injury – Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Reece Topley and Mark Wood.

  Compared to 2019, a team perfectly crafted over four years under former captain Eoin Morgan, this was a side somewhat rushed together last minute.

They had the until-recently exiled Alex Hales as opener, two inexperienced batters in Phil Salt and Harry Brook in the top five and an untested death bowler in Sam Curran delivering the final overs.

Still England ended up celebrating on the outfield underneath golden ticker tape falling from the Melbourne night sky.  That England came through is a clear sign of the strength of their white-ball cricket, revolutionised under Morgan after the 2015 50-over World Cup and taken on by his successor Jos Buttler.

Buttler, one of three players along with Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali to have played in 2015, 2019 and 2022, has led brilliantly throughout this tournament, in a more low-key but no less impressive fashion than Morgan.

Since the nadir of the Bangladesh-inflicted early exit in 2015, England have won two of four white-ball World Cups, while reaching a semi-final and a final in the other two.

They have become a relentless machine, feared overseas and expected to win by those at home.  That is why the shock loss to Ireland in the group stage of this tournament, followed by a washout against Australia that left England on the brink, caused such disappointment.  England fans are not used to their white-ball team failing anymore.

Yet, outside the die-hards, this team is probably still underappreciated by the wider public.  The debate over why the profile of English cricket has dipped can be saved for another day but ask the stranger on the street to pick out Jos Buttler or Moeen Ali from a crowd and they may struggle to do so – a status below their achievements.

Players of the past may have better numbers, more recognisable faces. But this current group have a trophy cabinet few can match.

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