Waugh's early pick for World Cup favourite | cricketnetwork.com

Waugh's early pick for World Cup favourite

11 July 2018

Former captain analyses the frontrunners for the 2019 World Cup and urges Australia to rush banned batsmen back as soon as possible

Steve Waugh, the captain who most recently led a team to the World Cup trophy on British soil, has indicated that if he was given a choice of teams to skipper heading into next year's showpiece tournament it would be England's current one-day line-up.

And while the dual World Cup winner concedes that defending champions Australia won't enter next year's campaign among the likely favourites on the basis of recent form, he believes they must choose banned batters Steve Smith and David Warner if they are to mount a serious challenge.

With the next World Cup final at Lord's less than a year away, Australia is currently ranked sixth having lost 16 of their past 18 completed one-day internationals, which represents the team’s leanest stint since limited-overs internationals were pioneered almost 50 years ago.

By contrast, England currently sits atop the ICC's rankings for ODI cricket having lost just four of 21 matches over the past year.

Match wrap: Buttler blasts brave Aussies away

And Eoin Morgan’s team will remain No.1 provided they don’t succumb to a clean-sweep at the hands of second-ranked India in the three-match series that begins at Trent Bridge on Thursday.

Although Waugh believes it can be problematic for teams to maintain long winning streaks leading into major competitions, thereby running the risk of peaking too early, he sees in England an outfit with few shortcomings as they target the quadrennial prize that had eluded them 11 times since 1975.

"I think that’s great if you’ve got confidence and belief, and that’s what they’ve got right now," Waugh told cricket.com.au in assessing England’s 2019 World Cup chances at home.

"The only thing, I guess, against England right now is that opposition will be studying the way they’re playing.

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"They’ll be analysing every moment so they’ll have much better game plans against England going forward.

"That will be their challenge, how to stay that one step in front.

"But if I was in their shoes, if you asked me which (team) I’d like to be captaining right now, I’d like to be captaining the England one-day side.

"Because they’re playing a great brand of cricket, they’re a very together side, I can’t see the make-up of the team changing much and they’re playing at home.

"Everything’s in their favour.

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"You always say you want to peak and get momentum into a tournament, but there’s nothing wrong with having momentum in the first game either."

In acknowledging that Australia’s recent 0-5 drubbing by England came in the absence of key players Smith and Warner (both suspended) and pace bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins (all injured), Waugh conceded that successive losses must impact upon team morale.

He also foreshadowed further potential upheaval when the 12-month bans imposed upon the former skipper and his deputy are lifted next March, given they will have few opportunities to re-establish themselves at international level before the World Cup begins in May.

However, the fact that a nucleus of the team that's expected to defend the Cup that Australia won in 2015 has taken part in a number of the recent losses suggests that time in which they can rediscover winning form and proven personnel is fast running out, Waugh claimed.

"Even if it's not your best side, there’s still seven or eight players there who are going to be in your best team and they’ve lost a lot of cricket," Waugh said.

"That’s going to take a while to turn around.

"So going into next year’s World Cup, our preparation is going to be disjointed.

"We are definitely not going to be one of the favourites going there.

"It’s not to say we still can’t win it, but we have to find form and we have to find a combination that clicks in what’s probably going to be a short space of time."

Coincidentally, Waugh was a pivotal presence in the previous one-day line-ups that endured similar success-starved runs to that of the current team.

Between April 1986 and January 1987, soon after Waugh was first selected for Australia as a 20-year-old, the national limited-overs side won just three from 13 matches prompting a major reshuffle of playing stocks.

That record was repeated in 1997-98 when the national selectors decreed it was time to separate the Test and ODI formats, and pick specialist players for specific roles with Waugh elevated to lead the one-day team while Mark Taylor remained in charge of the Test outfit.

On both occasions, Australia turned around their form slumps to triumph at the subsequent World Cup in India and Pakistan (1987) and at the most recent tournament staged in the UK (1999).

But if they are to bounce back for the 2019 campaign which begins with a match against newly promoted Test combatant Afghanistan at Bristol on June 1, then Waugh maintains they will need to select Smith and Warner regardless of how much top-level cricket the pair might have played beforehand.

Waugh said when it comes to high-pressure, knock-out matches that define tournament play, there is no substitute for hard-nosed competitors who have shown they can produce their best when it most matters.

It was for that reason that he successfully lobbied selectors for the inclusion of veteran allrounder Tom Moody, who had built an imposing reputation on the England county circuit, after he was initially omitted from the preliminary World Cup squad chosen in 1999.

Moody played a crucial role in Australia 1999 Cup win // Getty
Moody played a crucial role in Australia 1999 Cup win // Getty

"Moody was out of the original 30-man squad, and I made a phone call to (then selection chair) Trevor Hohns saying 'look, I think we’re going to need him there and we’re going to need players like (experienced seamer) Paul Reiffel'," Waugh recalled.

"You do need experience in those big match conditions, and while you want some young players there of course, you need the hard heads in World Cup finals and World Cup semi-finals.

"And that’s why someone like Smith and Warner will be crucial to our chances."

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About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.