England enjoying the World Cup ride, at last

Everyone knows that most of the players in this England World Cup squad are feeling pretty exhausted at the end of a long, hard and largely exhilarating winter.

But despite their topsy-turvy ride over the past month or so, the thrilling win against the West Indies will lift them all enormously. During this tournament there have been some bad moments, but England will now qualify for the quarter-finals unless both Bangladesh and West Indies win their final group games (against South Africa and India respectively), and I see that as being very unlikely.

So England can now go to their holding camp in Delhi, get some rest, and see who turns out to be their opponents in the last eight. And, whoever it is, they will not mind. Indeed, it is England’s opponents who will probably be more concerned because they simply will not know what sort of team they will be facing.

England’s progress through Group B has been extraordinary. Defeats against two of the weaker teams, Ireland and Bangladesh, in matches they should have won but a magnificent victory against South Africa and an astonishing tie against India – together with a struggle to beat the Netherlands and now this latest backs-to-the-wall triumph over the West Indies.

Yet, as they reflect on all of this, Andrew Strauss and his players will probably not care. They can now concentrate fully on looking ahead (assuming either Bangladesh or West Indies lose their last group game) and they will realise that they are just three games away from achieving something really special.

Can they go on and win the World Cup? You look at the squad and wonder what players they have that can produce match-winning performances against the really top teams at the business end of the tournament, especially with the likes of Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen already back at home with injuries and others like Jimmy Anderson struggling so badly for form after so long on the road.

But who knows what is now possible? England are so unpredictable, and they have yet to put a complete performance together in terms of the three main disciplines of batting, bowling and fielding. Yet they keep winning crunch games, and their spirit is clearly strong.

Sheer character can carry them still further in this tournament and no team has yet been tested quite so often in the field as this England side. They also know that they can come through and win in really stressful situations and that is a good place to be.

Yes, England are tired and yes, most of the players have been away from home for too long. But they still want to win this World Cup and that desire shone out in the way they fought and fought against the West Indies. Perhaps – just perhaps – they have their really big performances still to come.

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