History beckons for England tomorrow. It will be a regular occurrence in the next six months and by the end of it, come January, the players may wish that history could button its lip awhile.
The Champions Trophy final against India represents the first of three seminal targets in a row for the team led by Alastair Cook: the winning after 38 years and 16 failed attempts of an ICC one-day competition, followed by series against Australia home and away which give them the opportunity of winning the Ashes on four consecutive occasions for the first time since 1890, when the concept was barely half-formed.
It is a momentous period in which to be an England international cricketer and up to eight players may well be involved all the way. For now, the other matter, 19 days’ hence, is still on the horizon.
The Champions Trophy in the past fortnight has been a huge success, played largely before capacity audiences and producing enough fascinating contests to ensure that 50-over cricket lives. It has rightly produced the dream final between its two most accomplished teams, the host nation against the nation where the sport matters more than anywhere else.
India are understandably favourites after their irrepressible form so far. Whether batting, bowling or fielding they have looked the part, but then they have not yet met England’s attack.
England acquitted themselves well in losing a one-day series 3-2 in India earlier this year and will not have forgotten that India could not win a match in this country two years ago. If England can nip out two with the new ball – which is admittedly doubtful since their opening partnerships so far have been 127, 101, 58 and 77 – then unfamiliar territory may count for a lot.
Of the six previous limited overs finals to be held in England – four World Cups, one Champions Trophy, one World Twenty20 – five were played at Lord’s, one at The Oval. It is fitting that this one is being played at the new Edgbaston, where the support for the away side could easily be greater than that for the home one.
For Jonathan Trott (and for the other Warwickshire players in the squad, Ian Bell and Chris Woakes, for that matter) it may not quite feel like the home they expect, though Trott could not contain his excitement yesterday. He joined Warwickshire in 2003, coming over from South Africa when he was 22.
“I looked at the fixture list maybe a year ago and saw it there and felt really excited,” he said. “You didn’t want to think about it too much and have it as a sort of goal or anything like that and take away the importance of all the other games, but hopefully it will be a really memorable day and more than something special personally for myself, Belly and Woakesy.”
Trott has been England’s leading scorer in this competition, as he was during the last World Cup. Only two other players, Kumar Sangakkara, a class act in anybody’s language, and Shikhar Dhawan, who is in the form of his life, have more. Yet Trott will never be all things to all men, will never please all of them all the time and may not please some any of the time.
His figures, however, stack up in terms of his average and his strike rate. He is alone among England batsmen who have played 20 or more ODI innings in having an average above 50, with Kevin Pietersen and Nick Knight well behind in the early forties. Scoring at 77.02 runs per 100 balls may not be bursting up the modern charts but it is acceptable rather than sluggish.
Trott has scored 50 or more 26 times and England have won 16 of them. In this tournament he has never come in later than the 12th over, meaning there has always been rebuilding to be done.
He still bristles when he is asked about his role in the side, adopting the default position that the world – or the cricket reporting part of it anyway – is against him. He is probably resigned to thinking that this is his fate.
“I’ve always been pretty good at general feeling for the game and cricketing instincts and intuition,” he said. “A few times people get things wrong and I’ve probably been guilty of that. I think the way I’ve played over the last couple of months I’ve contributed to getting some decent totals for the team.”
Part of the intrigue of modern ODI cricket is watching the batsmen assess how many runs they need to make and how quickly. Cock it up, as England probably did against Sri Lanka, when they ran into a Sangakkara at the peak of his brilliance, and the consequences are painfully obvious.
“It’s the job of the openers to assess the situation, or if we lose a wicket it’s my job, and think about what is going to be a good score and play accordingly,” said Trott.
“That is why a lot of teams I think are chasing, because with the extra fielder in the ring now and the powerplay, it’s a lot harder to know what is a good score first up. Whereas, if you can see the run rate on the board, and generally one-day wickets are pretty good and don’t deteriorate that much, that’s why chasing is seen as a little bit of an advantage.”
Equally, of the three matches England have won in the competition, two were won batting first.
England have a potential selection dilemma. Graeme Swann, their first choice off-spinner, trained yesterday and bowled a long stint. But his replacement James Tredwell has done exceedingly well, is match-honed, does not deserve to lose his place and may be the better bet.
Tim Bresnan, newly a father, should come back in for Steve Finn, who looks worryingly short of the necessary at present. Maybe he is keeping his powder dry for you know what.
India are in prime fettle, feeling, whatever their captain, M S Dhoni, says to the contrary, that they have come to terms with these conditions. But nobody knows them better than England.
* Probable teams:
England A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, J E Root, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, J C Tredwell, J M Anderson.
India S Dhawan, R Sharma, K D Karthik, V Kohli, S K Raina, M S Dhoni (capt; wkt), R A Jadeja, R Ashwin, B Kumar, I Sharma, U T Yadav.
Umpires K Dharmasena (S Lanka) & R Tucker (Aus).
Television Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 10am-7pm
Weather Conditions will be unsettled, with a chance of rain throughout the day and intermittent sunshine. Maximum temp: 15C.
Odds: England 11-10; India 8-11.
* Leading tournament run-scorer
332 Shikhar Dhawan (India).
* Leading tournament wicket-taker
11 Mitchell McClenaghan (N Zealand).