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We’re Champions, So What Now?

Jonnie Bairstow this week was asked about a potential backlash from New Zealand in this T20 series after what happened at Lords in the World Cup final. A timely reminder perhaps for one of England’s seasoned pro’s that they were now playing with the world champions tag that for years previously they had so badly craved. Professional sport however always seems to have a habit of striking a team back down to size once they have achieved their long term goal or ambition. Examples of this run through pretty much every sport from Leicester City’s season as champions to England’s rugby heroes of 2003 and even closer to home the 2005 Ashes winning side. So can this England white ball side learn from other teams that have gone before them and avoid the pitfalls that so many have stumbled on?

Rule one for England comes from the German football team that won the World Cup in 2014 with an exceptional group of players who were at the peak of their powers. Role forward four years however and the team personnel hadn’t really changed and decline began to set in. Joachim Löw picked the same group of players four years later either as a reward or he was so misty eyed that he couldn’t see the problems.

South Korean players celebrate during their World Cup upset win over Germany in Kazan, Russia, in which they scored twice late to shock the defending champs.

For England this would be an easy mistake to make having just won their first 50 over tournament this summer. The idea that this current crop of cricketers who played in the summer is the best we’ll have may be an easy assumption to get drawn into. Most of the squad will probably still be able to produce high quality performances in four years time but the issue may lie if someone better comes along. A player like Tom Banton may very well in the next four years be good enough to replace one of the top order batsmen and England must be prepared to make the switch if needs be.

The idea of freshening up the squad brings us nicely into rule two which comes from Leicester City’s miraculous Premier League title winning side in 2016. Be careful that the group doesn’t get split up into two groups of winners and newbie’s. Leicester’s triumph meant they qualified for the Champions League, new signings were bought on much higher wages and the team harmony that had gotten them that far was disturbed.

England obviously won’t have the issue of wages and individual contracts to deal with like in Premier League football, but however any new player will have to cope with the rest of the team being World Cup winners. That can put pressure on new players coming in who feel they have to win tournaments to prove themselves. England should be use to players coming and going throughout the team but never has an England team been world champions before.

Rule number three is don’t lose to your rivals like the England rugby team did post their World Cup triumph in 2003. By the end of the 2005 Six Nations championship England had lost to Ireland, France, New Zealand, Australia and Wales. Every teamed loved beating England who were walking round with target signs on their backs because they were world champions. The pressure grew and results started to snowball and by the time 2007 rolled by they were on coach number three.

In cricket England are obviously about to play the team they beat in the final in New Zealand who will be out to inflict a blow on the champions. Then in 2020 they play South Africa, Australia and finally tour India next winter all who will be desperate to embarrass England at supposedly their format. Imagine if Australia at any point leads the series next summer and how utterly unbearable the likes of David Warner may become which in turn will only heighten the pressure on England.

The final rule comes from a little closer to home but one that will be out of their hands as it is to avoid injuries to key players. The famous Ashes winning side of 2005 never played again together and really only four of them were on career inclines. (Strauss, Bell, Pietesen and Collingwood). Key long term injuries to Simon Jones, Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick’s health battle meant England were left with a very inexperienced side that only managed to win one of their next five test series which concluded with the whitewash in the 2006/07 Ashes down under.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 18: (L-R) Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist of Australia celebrate after securing victory on day five of the third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at the WACA on December 18, 2006 in Perth, Australia. Australia’s victory in the third Test Match means they regain the Ashes. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

All though this is generally out of a team’s hands but just imagine if Morgan, Buttler and Roy all miss the best part of 12 months cricket. That might leave Stokes as captain and in a similar position to Flintoff 13 years earlier who struggled to cope to balance it with all the aspects of his game. Without three of their best players they’re bound to not win as many games and before you know it the World Cup can seem a long time ago, just ask Duncan Fletcher.

The great sporting enigma then of what to do once you’ve climbed the mountain and achieved everything you set out to do. Some sporting sides have gone onto forge dynasties and repeat their triumph again such as the All Blacks and Manchester United but more often than not what follows is change. All we can do is watch how the England cricket team respond to their own change of being world champions.  

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