By Kieran Wellington
Pakistan’s victory over New Zealand on Wednesday means England must win their remaining two games to ensure qualification to the semi-finals
The pre-tournament favourites must now beat 2nd and 3rd in the table, starting with the unbeaten India at Edgbaston
Jonny Bairstow has been vocal in suggesting the watching English media are waiting for failure, which has been derided by former players now in the press
BIRMINGHAM, UK – The best one-day team in the world may suffer their most embarrassing World Cup exit ever if they fail for a fourth time in eight games against 2011 champions India
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No-one saw this coming for England
The number one side in the world have played like the England of old – before the fearlessness of Eoin Morgan‘s captaincy took hold – and within a week have gone from being a game away to cruising into the last four to now having zero margin for error.
Tactics have appeared muddled, the batting, which looked to be so equipped to make big scores, now looks fragile and even Joe Root is making low scores.
How can the hosts turn it around, especially in Birmingham on Sunday against an Indian side that remains unbeaten that will carry with them a vociferous support in the stands – so much so, it may feel as if the match is taking place in Kolkata.
Is this World Cup campaign destined to end in one of the most humiliating of circumstances for an England team that has plenty of previous in that regard?
When an England sporting side lose – however unexpectedly – in a World Cup, there is always a public post-mortem with scores of former pros and journalists alike throwing in their opinion as to why England just can’t do it on the biggest stage.
We see this most often in our most prominent national sport, football, but in the current format of a football World Cup, the maximum amount of games England can play is seven, and if they have managed to complete this many fixtures, it means they have (at least) got to a World Cup semi-final.
The format of this Cricket World Cup has worked against Morgan’s men, though. With seven games gone, and three defeats already – the maximum England’s football team could manage in their version – you’d have to have lived in a dark room for the last week to avoid the negativity brandished at England, who have now lost consecutive ODIs at home for the first time since 2015.
Yes, 2015. Coincidentally, the last year a World Cup took place. Or perhaps, not that coincidentally.
Morgan has transformed the makeshift side that lined up down under four years ago that were dumped out to Bangladesh and lost two-thirds of their Pool A games, resulting in a failure to reach the last eight, seen as the nadir of English one-day cricket.
If England lose their fourth game of this 2019 edition on Sunday – the same number of defeats as they fell to in 2015 – old scars will officially have been not just reopened, but new, fresh wounds will have been gouged into the psyche of England cricket fans that will last a lifetime.
This was meant to be our moment. We were leading a new brand of exciting, ruthless, brutal 50-over cricket that blew every other country out of the water. Now, in the last two matches, England have been bowled out twice for less than 225, a score scoffed at by the cricketing world pre-tournament as belonging to a bygone era.
The statistic is made worse without Ben Stokes‘ contribution. The lone beacon of light in the stormy seas of the last week, Stokes has scored 171 runs and has only been removed once – by an unplayable yorker delivered by the best World Cup bowler in recent history.
Conversely, the rest of Trevor Bayliss‘ side have been dismissed 19 times by Sri Lanka and Australia for the grand total of 262 runs – an average of just 13.8 runs a wicket.
It is no wonder then that the press – who had waxed lyrical about the forward-thinking of this England white-ball side pre-tournament, and even after emphatic wins against Afghanistan, Bangladesh and West Indies during the competition – are sharpening their pitchforks.
Jonny Bairstow, England’s opening batsman, who is averaging just 35 so far in the World Cup and has two golden ducks to his name, has felt the need to lambast the reaction he has seen as a result of England’s perilous position.
As reported in the Daily Mail, Bairstow said: “People were waiting for us to fail. They are not willing us on to win, they are waiting for you to get that loss so they can jump on your throat. It’s a typical English thing to do.”
Perhaps Bairstow would be best served doing his talking on the pitch and contributing to an England win so then former pros like Michael Vaughan have something good to write about, rather than fuelling the fire with more vitriol, as Vaughan retorted via Instagram on Friday:
India will be sensing blood
Virat Kohli‘s men will need no stronger motivation, even without former England captains criticising their own team’s performances, than knocking England out of their own World Cup.
Although an India win won’t guarantee England’s exit, with fifth-placed Pakistan’s final two matches looking winnable, the hosts probably need to reach 11 points to qualify – meaning at least one win and one wash-out or tie is required by an out-of-form England.
In stark contrast, the India juggernaut rolls on, and their dominance is reflected in possessing the highest net run-rate in the tournament (at time of writing). Despite having two of the best batsmen in the world in opener Rohit Sharma and captain Kohli, it is actually the bowlers that have impressed most recently.
Since the win against Australia at The Oval where a combined 668 runs were scored – the fifth most in World Cup history – India’s bowling has taken precedent. This has coincided with opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan‘s injury, who had put in a man-of-the-match performance against the Aussies.
Unlike England, India have dealt with injury to one of their senior players by reshuffling the batting order and realising their strengths and weaknesses.
Knowing their middle-order is now slightly susceptible if they lose early wickets, Rohit and KL Rahul have been fairly watchful at the start of their innings, with Kohli securing four consecutive 50s without converting any into a century.
But on pitches offering more for the bowlers than expected pre-World Cup, India’s squad has shown how to bowl to conditions.
Dhawan’s replacement, all-rounder Vijay Shankar, took a wicket with his first ever-ball in the World Cup, and in the same match vs Pakistan, leggie Kuldeep Yadav took 2-32 in nine overs.
This variety has certainly paid off, and even against Afghanistan when a potential shock looked on the cards – the bottom side only needed 24 runs off the last three overs – Mohammed Shami, who started the World Cup carrying drinks, took a hat-trick to seal the win.
That was only the 10th World Cup hat-trick ever, and if India keep living up to these high standards, England may well be receiving more criticism come Sunday night, and their World Cup fate can be taken out of their hands. Ominous.
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