It has been so much fun in the past month watching England’s stroll through this World Cup.
After rising to the top of the ICC World Rankings, dominating teams all over the world, it was their chance to hold the World Cup trophy at the balcony at Lord’s.
England fast bowler Mark Wood came out just weeks before the World Cup and backed the current ODI side to be able to surpass the 500 barrier.
Everything was looking good for England. The Barmy Army were declaring it was coming home, and the world was wondering who would run second in the World Cup to England.
Then Imran Tahir removed Jonny Bairstow with just the second ball in the World Cup. Suddenly, we realised that this is a nation that’s never held the trophy. It’s never been home. And after just two balls, one of the world’s best opening batsman, a man who had just dominated the IPL, looked tentative, nervous, defeated.
But as quickly as the cricketing world rejoiced in England’s immediate failure, Jason Roy and Joe Root went about rectifying his error. The pair would put on 106 for the second wicket in just 16 overs. The free-flowing, bullying batsmen of England that we had come to know in recent years were back. Ben Stokes would top score with 89, leading England past 300, before Jofra Archer would be unleashed, announcing himself as England’s new pace bowling hero.
It would come crashing down quickly for the English however. Pakistan would post 348 for six off their 50 overs, taking 79 off Archer’s 10 overs for no wickets, and hitting Chris Woakes for almost nine an over. The total was seemingly in England’s reach, substantially lower than the 500 their bowlers predicted their batsman could post. Despite a 76 ball century from Jos Butler, England would fall short, surpassing 300 but not able to reel it in.
Normal order would be restored, however, as England would post 386 against Bangladesh on the back of Jason Roy’s 153. Archer would return, taking three wickets as England bowled out Bangladesh for 280 in the 49th over. They would then easily account for the West Indies, with Joe Root scoring a century as they chased down 212 off just 33.1 overs.
These performances have been given more weight than they deserved. Australia also posted 380+ against Bangladesh, and the West Indies campaign was all but over by the time England had their shot at them.
They then took on Afghanistan and posted 397 off their 50 overs. Morgan would smash 17 sixes in a brutal 148 off just 71 balls. They dispatched young leg spinner Rashid Khan for 110 off just nine overs. But it was Afghanistan. The closest thing this World Cup has to a minnow.
In the 2015 World Cup, Australia would post 417 against them, and in this year’s opener, they effectively chased down 209 in 34 overs. The much-heralded batting dominance of England was all but a fallacy, but more concerningly for England, their recently unearthed pace attack would fail to dismiss Afghanistan, allowing them to bat out their 50 overs.
Seemingly, England were back on track. Just one more win from their remaining four matches would wrap up a semi-final spot, and coming up against Sri Lanka, a side comfortably defeated by both Australia and New Zealand, would be a formality.
But it was a false sense of security.
England had still yet to prove themselves in a big tournament. They would then have Sri Lanka 3/2 in just 2.2 overs, but would not be able to dismiss them, allowing them to post 232 off their 50 overs.
A medial chase of a tick over 4.5 an over should be an absolute breeze for the batting line up capable of 500. But it wasn’t. They were left embarrassed at Leeds as Lasith Malinga removed their top order and Dhananjaya de Silva would clean up the tail. England were bowled out for 212.
Suddenly, the whole World Cup was turned on its head. Wins to Pakistan, Bangladesh and this one of Sri Lanka had meant that there was a log jam of teams pushing for the fourth spot. England now needed to win at least one, if not two of their remaining three matches, against teams firmly inside the top four.
Enter Australia. For much of the past four years, they have been in turmoil, none more so than the last 18 months. This is a side who in February been completely written off for the World Cup. England posted 481 against them in an ODI just last year. How could a team whose win-loss record since the last World Cup of 29 wins and 36 losses possibly contend against the might of India and England? But then they found form.
They won three in a row in India to win the series 3-2, before five on the trot against Pakistan. They would then win five of six leading into the clash at Lord’s.
But England remained favourites. Not only for the match but for the World Cup.
How could they not? They boasted the greatest assembly of ODI batsman in history, just ask them.
After seven matches in this World Cup, it’s quite easy to read where England have lost their way.
They have picked a batting unit that would win any contest, and post massive scores, anywhere else in the world on dry, flat, batting friendly wickets.
Their bowlers are perfectly suited for the same conditions.
But this World Cup wasn’t hosted on the batting tracks of Australia, or India. It was in England, during a wetter than average English summer. This squad wasn’t selected for this.
Their coach, Australian Trevor Bayliss, had been praised for turning around the English. Turning them into a side that played aggressive, Australian style cricket. A side that fielded well, took the game on with both bat and ball.
He looked bereft of options as he watched on from the Lord’s balcony. So much so, he looked more like your grandfather ready to go for an afternoon of fishing once the cricket had wrapped up than he did an international coach. Perhaps that is because he lacks the CV of an international cricketer.
On the opposite balcony sat Australian coach Justin Langer, and his offsider Ricky Ponting. Both of whom are legends of Australian cricket. They understand the way Australian’s play. Ponting alone has more World Cup wins than England, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the West Indies combined. They schemed plans, they watched on tentatively and gave Australian fans, and players, the belief that this team was capable. And it was.
England captain Eoin Morgan won the toss and elected, rightly so, to bowl first. On a damp seam-friendly wicket his bowlers failed to back him up. How hard is it to stand the ball upright, pitch it up and bring the stumps, and two other modes of dismissal into play. Terribly hard apparently.
Archer, Woakes, Stokes and Wood failed to get a breakthrough, and let the Australian openers navigate through the most difficult part of the day to bat without losing a wicket. They posted yet another century stand, and it took the off-spin of Moeen Ali to break through.
The English pace bowlers persistence to drop it in short allowed both Finch and Warner to stay back in their crease and sweat on any width. Even when they attempted to bring sideways movement into play, they’d merely bowl Finch a half volley which he obligatorily put it back past the bowler for four.
It wasn’t until Khawaja would swipe past one-off Stokes looking for quick runs that England finally attacked the stumps. By then, they had lost it. They had lost the ascendancy. They had lost the aura that surrounded them leading into the World Cup.
My favourite part that is the calamity of England cricket is the way they capitulate on the field when things aren’t going their way. Just as we saw against Pakistan, once England find themselves behind, they lose the hunger to compete. They revert back to the England of old. It’s almost like Phil Tufnell is employed to be their fielding coach on days like this.
Against Pakistan, it was throwing balls to the fence for fun, and dropping catches like it was in fashion. Against Australia, it was fumbles in the outfield, allowing dots to become ones, and ones become twos. Jos Buttler would miss a regulation stumping that even Matt Wade would have negotiated.
And from that moment, it was obvious that any score above 250 would be too much for this England side that had revert back to doubting themselves. Doubting their ability.
James Vince would fail to negotiate a Jason Behrendorff inswinger just two balls into the innings. Joe Root was late on everything and perfectly set up for the inswinger onto his pads. It was so plumb he didn’t even stop to think about reviewing. Eoin Morgan genuinely looked out of sorts against the pace of Starc.
Instead of standing tall and smashing this attack around as he did against Afghanistan, he went into his shell. He jumped when balls were pitched short, and his footwork was non-existent to the full deliveries, stepping out towards legside to swipe at a ball on 5th stump line.
This is their captain. An Irishman who bats six for his county, and only looks comfortable when he can score freely. England needed him to dig in. He didn’t.
Starc, on the other hand, is world class. The leading wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup, he now leads the 2019 edition as well. He boasts the best average and strike-rate of any of the top 50 wicket-takers in World Cup history.
He perfectly lulled Morgan into a false shot. Pitching it in short when he expected it full and at the pads. He knew Morgan would not confidently hoick this over the boundary. He was fearful. He put it straight down Patrick Cummins throat. That was the game.
Ironically, the England squads between 2011 and 2015 would have won this game. In fact, they’d probably win the World Cup. Players like Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood giving the England top order the ability to recover from two early wickets.
The ability to play within themselves until the danger of losing the match had passed. Or perhaps, the bowling of Broad and Anderson. There is no way in hell they’d have banged it in on that damp, green wicket at Lord’s. They’d have tested out the patience of the Australian top order by enticing drives and asking them to negotiate around their off-stump. They have the winning mentality of bowling sides out, not letting them bat out their overs like it’s a net session.
England can turn this around, but they don’t deserve to. England must now win both matches against undefeated sides to ensure themselves of a semi-final spot, and not winning one will surely see England bow out before the semi-finals.
It appears now that the World Cup final is destined for an Australian vs India encounter.
It appears that ‘it’s going home’ to a nation that has at least housed the trophy before.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching England mess this one up. And I can’t wait to hear the songs the barmy army are forced to sing in the semi-finals when they’re not there.