This match is huge. It should be a top of the table match to decide who finishes 1st and who finishes second. England were ranked number one, the absolute favourites to win the World Cup, and the most in-form team in the tournament, as well as being hosts, but India were not so far behind, ranked number two, second favourites to win, with the audacity to force the ICC not only to limit the World Cup to just 10 teams but to start later (at the expense of South Africa) and to have the benefit of playing less games. Neutrals should be supporting England. England are the team who deserve to be there, who have worked so hard to be there. India are the team who have had everything handed to them on a platter. And yet, in spite of all of this, England are in a situation where they might yet miss out on the semi-finals, and some say that they are guaranteed to miss out. Certainly, if they were to lose this match and also their final match to New Zealand, then they probably will miss out. But if they were to win this match, or the New Zealand match, then they will probably make it. While this is not quite a must-win game, it’s pretty close.
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Five Fearless Predictions:
(1) England will be scared
We saw in their match against Australia that they were demoralised. The pressure of the situation really got to them. They might try to deny that they played worse because everyone is saying that they will lose, but the reality is that they did. Ben Stokes was the only player really playing to his potential. Batsmen were gifting wickets, fieldsmen were dropping catches, and it was all just that little bit worse than it should have been, and we can expect that to be the same in the match against India too. They need to lift, and not just with batting, bowling or fielding. They need to get past that mental disintegration they are feeling, as a result of their loss to Sri Lanka, and listening to the media.
(2) Ben Stokes will lead
He has for many years been far too over-hyped, his small achievements being labelled far higher than they actually are, and his many failings being routinely ignored, but, in the past two matches, he has shone, not just with good scores, good batting, good bowling, or even good fielding, but in being the only player who hasn’t crumbled under pressure. Against Sri Lanka, when everyone else was panicking, Stokes didn’t, and took on a leadership role that could have and should have won England the match, if only number 11 Mark Wood didn’t panic and fish for a wide ball that he didn’t have to play at. Stokes backed that up against Australia too, and I expect him to back it up again. The question is whether the rest of the team will go with him.
(3) Joe Root will lift
He is undoubtedly England’s best player and he has been pretty good in this tournament, bar the last couple of matches. If England are to lift, Joe Root needs to do it. Stokes is the leader but Root needs to be the second in command, his skill and energy needing to be in control.
(4) Virat Kohli will intimidate
He is not in the best form of his career but he is doing enough to intimidate, as we saw against West Indies, where his “man of the match” performance was more for his intimidation than his batting. India will know how tough a match this would be if it was genuinely about the skills of each team, and they will know that their best chance of victory is to intimidate the opposition. It’s a bit like how in 1999 Glenn McGrath used to will batsmen out, as did Courtney Walsh, or even Shane Warne against South Africa, or Viv Richards against pretty much anyone. It’s the thing that adds that extra dimension to cricket, which most cricket fans love – except when they are on the receiving end. This is a match which, without intimidation, England would probably win. If India play fairly, they will probably lose. That’s why they need to do everything they can to get under England’s skin, and Virat Kohli is the man to do it. He is the one who is best at doing it and in the last match, against West Indies, he was back to his arrogant, annoying, intimidating worst – or best if you are an Indian fan. If he can continue that against England then it could be the difference between the two teams.
(5) England will win
I could easily go for India here, but I saw enough in England’s match against Australia to suggest that Joe Root could join Ben Stokes in breaking through the depression that the team is under, and, if Root can go with him, then perhaps Morgan can too, perhaps Jofra Archer’s early series great bowling can go with him, then the other batsmen can too. India for their part have been winning, yes, but not by big margins, not even against lowly Afghanistan, and there are a lot of indicators that England will win this. India might even want to lose this, as going into the finals undefeated can be difficult, and it’s only worked with truly dominant teams like Australia in 2003 and 2007 – and quite unlike India in this tournament. India could easily have lost 2 or 3 matches by now, but for a bit of luck, and it seems to me like that luck is about to break, just like how New Zealand’s run of close wins was broken by Pakistan. While fans of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will all want India to win, that’s if anything all the more reason for India to lose. World Cups have always been full of teams deliberately losing matches to stuff up other teams, and the idea that India could deliberately lose so as to stuff up their subcontinental neighbours is very genuine – especially Pakistan. It’s happened before many times. This looks like the perfect storm for England to win, and I’m picking it.