2019 promises to be a cracking year of cricket, with a World Cup and men’s and women’s Ashes series among the highlights.
Ahead of a jam-packed 12 months, we look at the players who could and should come to the fore…
JOE ROOT AND EOIN MORGAN
England’s respective Test and one-day captains can reflect on a job well done in 2018.
Root’s men bounced back from their Ashes trouncing and subsequent defeat in New Zealand to conquer India at home, whitewash Sri Lanka away and rise to second in the ICC Test rankings.
Morgan’s charges, meanwhile, top the ODI standings and are on a run of nine bilateral ODI series wins on the spin. Yet 2019 is when both skippers will be judged as the Aussies and the World Cup come to England.
Root will be hoping to follow in predecessor Alastair Cook’s footsteps and ensure a thrashing in an away Ashes series is followed by a triumph at home, which will be easier said than done if the Australian pace attack that flattened England in 2017/18 remains fit and firing and Steve Smith and David Warner, as expected, return following their ball-tampering bans.
England developed in 2018, though – Cook bowed out but Root’s team have unearthed a fine wicketkeeper batsman in Ben Foakes and a star all-rounder Sam Curran, seen Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes play gritty as well as grandiose innings and boosted their spin-bowling pool with the emergence of Jack Leach. Plus, James Anderson shows no signs of slowing down.
Buttler and Stokes, of course, are key cogs in England’s power-packed ODI side, one most pundits expect to lift the World Cup title at Lord’s on July 14.
Morgan has transformed the team’s fortunes since the 2015 World Cup debacle and will now be intent on seeing them over the line in a big tournament following a semi-final exit at the hands of Pakistan in the Champions Trophy in 2017 and that Carlos Brathwaite-inspired defeat to Windies in the 2016 World Twenty20 final.
STEVE SMITH AND DAVID WARNER
2018 was a bumpy one for Smith and Warner, though 2019 could be bumper with the pair expected back for Australia’s World Cup and Ashes defences once their year-long bans for ball-tampering elapse on March 29.
“The silver lining is that we have got world-class players available soon to come back into this side and clearly when they do it will make a difference. The guys have nearly done their time, so it’s time we started focusing on the fact they’re coming back,” said Australia Test captain Tim Paine.
Warner and Smith – whose time away from the top table of the game has included spells in Sydney grade cricket and in the Global T20 Canada – will bring with them a combined 12,562 runs in Tests and 7,774 in the ODI arena, with Smith hoping to pick up where he left off in the last Ashes series when he blunted England’s attack and scored 687 runs in seven innings.
But the most fascinating aspect could be how they reintegrate into the dressing room, Warner in particular, with Cameron Bancroft – also suspended following the Newlands scandal – stating the left-hander was the architect of the plot to tamper with the ball. You can be sure that English fans won’t let Warner and Smith forget their misdemeanours.
England will head into the World Cup with a settled unit – but the soon-to-be qualified Archer could be a late gatecrasher. The Barbados-born quick will qualify in mid-March and national selector Ed Smith refused to “rule out” the 23-year-old making the cut. “If there are players who become available and we think they’re worthy of consideration we’ll consider them.”
Archer’s assets are plain to see. He bowls at 90mph – and clocked almost 95mph for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL – can whack the ball out of the park and is a gun in the field to boot. After impressing for county side Sussex and various T20 sides last season, he has carried on his form in this term’s Big Bash, with six wickets in his opening four games for Hobart Hurricanes.
Like England’s men, England’s women will be looking to regain the Ashes at home in 2019. Heather Knight’s side shipped the trophy to the Southern Stars after losing 10-6 on points in England in 2015 and were then unable to reclaim it in Australia in 2017 after a valiant 8-8 draw.
However, England did not have Ecclestone at the top of her game then. They do now. The 19-left-arm spinner has become one of the first names on the team-sheet after a 2018 in which she claimed 35 wickets in 23 limited-overs matches, helped her side to the final of the ICC World Twenty20, and was named ICC Emerging Player of the Year.
With the Universe Boss turning 40 in September, 2019 could be his swansong in international cricket. If it is, he would love to depart with himself and Windies impressing in the World Cup and as well as having become the 14th man to break 10,000 runs in ODI cricket – the Jamaican is currently on 9,727.
The blistering knocks are not as frequent as they once were for Gayle but he showed when he walloped 11 sixes in an innings against UAE in the World Cup Qualifier last year and then the same number for Kings XI Punjab in an IPL match with Sunrisers Hyderabad that he remains a box-office draw.
Who are you looking forward to watching in 2019? Let us know in the feedback form below (skysports.com only) or on Twitter @SkyCricket. Watch the ICC Cricket World Cup, the Ashes and the Women’s Ashes live on Sky Sports Cricket in 2019! Before then watch every ball of England’s Test and ODI series against Windies, starting with the first Test on Wednesday, January 23.
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