Two games from history: England’s action plan for World Cup glory | Rob Smyth | Sport

1 Win the toss and bat

One of the bigger cheers of the 2005 Ashes came when Michael Vaughan won the toss before the final Test at the Oval. If there are any England fans at Edgbaston for Thursday’s semi-final, there will surely be a similar cheer should Eoin Morgan do the same. As in 2005, batting first has suddenly assumed critical importance. A combination of tired pitches and debilitating pressure mean the team batting first have won 25 of the 38 completed games at this tournament – including 14 of the last 17. That’s the kind of data nobody can ignore.

2 Adapt to the conditions

While England have been criticised for not always adapting with the bat, no one can doubt their tactical flexibility. Two of the non-negotiables of their World Cup plan – bowling first and playing two spinners – have gone out the window because of changes in conditions and form. And though they will remain open minded in case they encounter extreme conditions, it is hard to see them deviating from the new balance of five fast bowlers and one spinner – especially as all the fast bowlers are in form and both the spinners are not.

3 Hope the openers do not have a bad day

Don Bradman was once told by Neville Cardus that the law of averages was against him making runs the following day. “I don’t believe in the law of averages,” Bradman said. He scored 304. England will hope Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have a similar attitude, because they are due a failure. Their opening partnership has become totemic both in style and substance, and their record at home is almost Bradman-esque: they have an average stand of 95 and have hit nine 100 partnerships in 16 innings. And England have won all nine games when they have put on 100.

Chris Woakes (left) and Jofra Archer (right) have formed a formidable bowling partnership.

Chris Woakes (left) and Jofra Archer (right) have formed a formidable bowling partnership. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

4 Early wickets make a difference

The new-ball partnership of Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer has been almost as important. England are superb frontrunners with bat and ball and excellent at holding their nerve in the field during a tight run chase; but they are not as good at dragging a game back after a poor start. It’s no coincidence that the two big opening partnerships against them in this tournament – by Pakistan and Australia – led not only to defeat but also a slightly alarming unravelling in the field. All three potential opponents in the knockout stages rely heavily on their top four, so a strong start – and ideally a couple of early wickets – would be ideal. But England cannot expect to always control games from the start. At some stage, whether with bat or ball, they will have to cope with mid-match adversity better than they have so far in the tournament. A World Cup doesn’t come for free.

5 Catches win matches

Fielding is a window into a team’s soul. England lost their way and their rag against Pakistan and Australia, and both times it affected their batting later in the day. Their fielding in the two must-win matches against India and New Zealand was electric, symbolised by Bairstow’s almost-demented boundary-riding. They need to reach the same standard in the knockout stages, especially if they are asked to field first.

6 Target the weak links

The remaining semi-finalists are superb sides, yet all have passengers. England’s ability to target the weaker links, with ball and especially bat, will be critical. Their assault on India’s Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav last Sunday was breathtaking in its audacity, courage and skill, and for most of the tournament they have marmalised even the best spinners. Spin was England’s white-ball kryptonite for so long; if they are going to win the World Cup they may as well exorcise one of the biggest demons of the last 27 years.

7 Keep the scoreboard ticking over

Fifty overs is a long time. In the last two matches England have had very quiet spells with the bat, yet still scored over 300 both times. There will be periods in the semi-final when the scoreboard gets stuck; England need to accept that and sit in for a few overs where necessary. They will also, surely, accept that Jasprit Bumrah and especially Mitchell Starc must be handled with the utmost care.

8 Captain Morgan must lead from the front

There is no need for anyone to shove a game plan under the wrong hotel door. Everyone knows Morgan will be peppered with short balls when he comes to the crease. In the next few days he should spend hours having balls thrown at his head in the nets. Most of all, whether it is to duck, hook, make room or phone a friend, he needs to have absolute clarity in his mind. In the biggest matches the performance of the captain can set a decisive tone.

Mark Wood runs out New Zealand’s Kane Williamson.

Mark Wood runs out New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

9 Make your own luck

Roy could have been out first ball against New Zealand. Bairstow twice put an inside-edge against Mohammad Shami past leg stump at the start of his century against India. Mark Wood’s fingertip dismissed Kane Williamson in the kind of freak incident that makes people believe in destiny. As good as England were against India and New Zealand they had the kind of luck that is usually essential in knockout games. They won both tosses, too, and were able to pick their best XI despite a few niggles to their fast bowlers. The backup looks relatively weak, for various reasons, so England will be desperate to avoid untimely injuries.

10 If Rashid and Buttler rediscover their mojo …

Adil Rashid played an important role in England’s win over New Zealand on Wednesday but only with the bat and in the field. His bowling has been out of sorts all summer, not just in this World Cup, and he has gone from key player to afterthought. The leg spinner has the worst economy rate and strike rate of any England bowler in the tournament. A shoulder problem has affected his ability to bowl the googly. Rashid has had a number of injections in his shoulder and may have another before Thursday’s semi-final. He could also do with an injection of confidence from Morgan, who has managed him so brilliantly for four years. If Rashid – and also Jos Buttler – hit form, England will be in serious danger of winning a World Cup.

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