ICC Champions Trophy 2013: England have earned the right to be termed serious title contenders

England’s performance in the Champions Trophy have enabled them to skip two places in the rankings to second, behind firm favourites India © Getty Images

With their all-round show in the Champions Trophy, England have given themselves the best chance to take the cup on Sunday, writes Jaideep Vaidya.

And just like that, England are in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. There weren’t many who would have placed their hard-earned money on England entering the final, no less winning the cup, before the tournament started. In the last six months, England had lost an away series to India 2-3, won away against New Zealand 2-1 and then reversed that result back home. It wasn’t a poor performance, but neither was it inspiring. Any claims that England, placed at No 4 in the ICC’s ODI rankings before the Champions Trophy started, were favourites on home soil — which were mainly propagated by the British press — were distilled by the Black Caps who out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded England in their own backyard, save for the final game of the three-match series.

Since then, England have beaten arch-rivals Australia comprehensively by 48 runs, lost to the brilliance of Kumar Sangakkara after posting 290-plus on the board and then exacted revenge on the Kiwis in a rain-curtailed match to enter the semi-finals on top of their group. In the last-four clash against South Africa, widely considered one of the favourites for the title, Alastair Cook’s men dished out what was easily their most professional performances in a long time, wiping the floor clean with the Proteas and beating them by seven wickets to book a place in the summit clash. Not that it would make much of a difference to them, their exploits in the Champions Trophy have enabled them to skip two places in the rankings to second, behind firm favourites India.

The Englishmen will be watching the second semi-final between India and Sri Lanka on Thursday with a chilled one in their hand and their feet up. Quite honestly, they deserve to do so. They will have a 24-hour advantage over whoever they face in the final and thus would be the fresher of the two teams on Sunday. Ian Botham, in one of his usual chirpy moods after an England win, even played down whoever would be the hosts’ opponents in the final, convinced that Cook’s men have it in them to win England’s first 50-over world competition. “Who will England play in the final? Does it matter?” he announced on Twitter.

While England would be wise to guard themselves from any emotions mirroring Botham’s, their performance in this tournament so far has earned them the right to consider themselves as valid contenders for the title. India might have set the stage alight with Shikhar Dhawan’s ballistics up the order, Ravindra Jadeja’s miracles in the middle both with bat and ball, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s natural swing through the air, but England have ensured that they won’t be mere walkovers in the final should India get there. The confidence is sky high following Wednesday’s win over the listless South Africans. Given the Proteas were missing players like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis to injury, but the manner in which England coasted home it would be a cardinal sin to underestimate them.

A lot has been written about the England bowlers’ ability to generate swing and the reverse variety with the flick of a switch. Former quick Bob Willis, who has 300 Test victims to his name, accused them of tampering with the ball — an allegation that brought some “concern” to South African skipper AB de Villiers prior to the semi-final. However, until anything is proved, opposition teams will just have to sit back, accept the fact and learn to deal with it, like de Villiers and his team tried and failed to succeed on Wednesday. In the absence of Steyn, James Anderson is easily the most treacherous fast bowler in the tournament with the white Kookaburra in hand. Like a slithering snake, Anderson’s deliveries viciously swing in both directions towards the batsman; he has deceived and accounted for 10 in the four matches he’s played. Tim Bresnan has been a handy ally from the other end, although missing the semi-final due to the birth of his first child. If he does come back into the side on Sunday in place of Steven Finn, he would like to deliver now that his wife has. Add to that the wily Stuart Broad and tricky Tredders [James Tredwell], and you’ve got yourself the best bowling attack in the tournament. Whether its Dhawan and Virat Kohli, or Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene up against them at Edgbaston, it’s unlikely to matter much to Anderson and Co.

England’s batting has also been most impressive. While Cook, Ian Bell and Joe Root all are averaging near and about 40, Jonathan Trott has emerged to be their most reliable and consistent batsman. In the last 12 months, Trott has piled on 850 runs at 65.38 without anyone noticing him. He has remained oblivious to his critics who chide him for his low strike-rate and languid approach to batting. He has responded with the bat in this tournament, scoring 43, 76, eight and 82 not out at a strike-rate a shade under 90, hushing his detractors. Trotters is England’s workhorse; he’ll get the job done at the back-end in his industrious manner, leaving the flamboyance to the Eoin Morgans and the Joe Roots of the team, but will delight the purist with a crisp cover-drive every now and then. As long as Trott is at the crease, England will be rest assured that they’re still in with a good chance.

With their all-round show in the Champions Trophy, England have given themselves the best chance to take the cup on Sunday. While the entire spotlight has been on India, England have quietly gone about doing their work and getting themselves within touching distance of a maiden ICC ODI crown after four failed attempts in finals (1979 World Cup, 1987 World Cup, 1992 World Cup and 2004 Champions Trophy). Captain Alastair Cook is confident this time: “I’ve got no doubt that the guys in our dressing room will turn up on Sunday. I’m fully confident in the lads that they can do that. I just hope it’s our turn.”

(Jaideep Vaidya is a reporter, sub-editor and analyst at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and multiple sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)