ICC World Cup: Why have champions England been a flop thus far?
The woeful form of some of their 2019 heroes, along with the early absence of Ben Stokes, has really hurt the defending champions
The England squad must be hurting badly now. A little over three weeks ago, they came into this ICC World Cup as the first country to hold both the 50-over and the World T20 crowns at the same time, definitely seen as certain semi-finalists.
Five matches down the line, their hopes lie in tatters, with a sole win against Bangladesh and the team languishing in ninth place on the table, just above the Netherlands. They have suffered defeats at the hands of New Zealand, Afghanistan, and South Africa, while an underwhelming Sri Lanka rubbed it in with a thumping eight-wicket win on Thursday.
While Jos Buttler’s men are technically not yet out of the running, they look like a pale shadow of the side which has created a new idiom in the white ball game over the last five to six years.
Yes, cricket can be a great leveller and every big team passes though a cycle like this, but then this very same team nucleus was unbeatable in the T20 World Cup in Australia just a year ago. Where and how did it all go wrong?
To start with, Buttler’s nightmarish run with the bat has perhaps been symptomatic of the reigning champions’ woes. His scores in his last five innings tell the tale: 43, 20, 9, 15 and 8, while his body language indicates clear signs of pressure.
A key factor behind England’s domination in white ball cricket, which had a knock-on effect in their so-called Bazball approach in Tests, has been the explosive start by their openers. That has been sorely lacking in Indian conditions with Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan managing to stitch together only a single 100-plus partnership against Bangladesh, while they have failed to cross the 50-run mark in the other four matches.
Another big blow was missing the multi-tasking Ben Stokes for the first three matches owing to a niggling injury. The player of the final in 2019, Stokes eventually played against South Africa, but failed with the bat though he showed some resistance against Lanka with a painstaking 43 off 73 deliveries. One would expect more from him in forthcoming battles against a high-flying India, Australia and Pakistan.
The well-rounded bowling attack — whose seamers as well as spinners are now more than conversant with Indian conditions thanks to the IPL — has certainly been a letdown. The likes of Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Moeen Khan failed to create an impact and had nearly 1200 runs (1193) scored off them in the first four matches.
If England fans had taken heart from a turnaround in fortunes of arch rivals Australia, who out-batted the opposition in their last two matches, they were in for a major disappointment on Thursday, though the smaller boundaries and belter of a wicket at Chinnaswamy Stadium held out much hope, and their openers were off to a promising start as well.
However, the loss of Malan and Joe Root inside the powerplay saw them completely lose their way and the die was cast soon. There was a flicker of hope for England's bowlers once they managed to get rid of Kusal Perera and captain Kusal Mendis early, but with the target being so modest, all it needed was a solid partnership to take the Lankans home.
Can a humbled England pick up the pieces in three days to bounce back in the next game against India? Anything can happen in cricket, but it looks a tall order as of now.