Before Friday’s shock defeat to Sri Lanka it was all going so well. Four wins from five matches – most of them very comprehensive – and a semi-final spot beckoning. Yes, they’d lost to Pakistan but everyone is allowed one bad performance in this round-robin format.
Nobody was fooled that the side had hit top gear just yet but there was plenty to be positive about.
Key quartet in tremendous form
Joe Root was in the form of his life. Combining smart shot selection with good rotation of the strike and plenty of patience, he was looking like the perfect number three. Eoin Morgan’s record-breaking 17 sixes against Afghanistan was a reminder of what the skipper could do on his day.
Then there was the good form of Ben Stokes. A bit scratchy coming into the tournament, he was looking every bit the world-class all-rounder he is; contributing well with the bat, bowling accurately while picking up crucial wickets and performing minor miracles on the field in just about every game.
Finally, Jofra Archer. The pace bowler was showing maturity beyond his years, bowling fast and nasty when needed and dipping into his bag of tricks here and there. Not only has he taken 15 wickets but with the exception of that disappointing loss against Pakistan, where he went wicketless, he took exactly three wickets in every match.
Sri Lanka defeat a wake-up call
The defeat against Sri Lanka was a problem in itself for obvious reasons. A win there would have all but guaranteed a semi-final spot whereas now they’ll need an absolute minimum of one more win to be safely in the semis (because of their good net run rate) and possibly even two, if other results don’t go their way.
But it was the manner of the defeat against the Sri Lankans that’s a big cause for concern. A couple of wickets fell to good deliveries and Joe Root was desperately unlucky to be caught down the leg side when going well, but the others dismissals left a lot to be desired.
Too often England’s batsmen committed the same mistakes as they had in that loss to Pakistan. Too many big shots, too many risks taken, not enough patience or thought to playing the conditions or the situation; rather than just trying to thrash and bash their way out of trouble.
Problems in the XI
The injury to Jason Roy may have not been such an issue had there been an in-form replacement ready to take his place.
Jonny Bairstow may have two half-centuries this tournament, including a 90 against Afghanistan, but he hasn’t been setting the world alight to his usually high standards. Compounded by a duck against the Sri Lankans, Bairstow can’t do it all on his own at the top of the order and needs an opening partner to take off the pressure.
Roy’s replacement, the immensely frustrating James Vince, just isn’t cutting it. At the end of that Sri Lanka defeat, Morgan said he honestly didn’t know when Roy will be back. Whenever it is, it isn’t soon enough.
Chris Woakes has been poor, too. Five wickets from six games isn’t too bad but when he’s been going at over six an over, you have to feel he can and must, do better.
Adil Rashid brought a little more respectability to his wickets tally with three against Afghanistan in the penultimate match and two against Sri Lanka last time out. He now has seven. But he too has been expensive and rarely troubled the better batsmen. Seems like that shoulder injury really is hampering him.
What’s coming up next isn’t pleasant…
Halfway through that match against Sri Lanka, England could have been forgiven for trying to work out who they might play in the next round. Now, they’re understandably worried about even making it that far.
It’s bad enough that England haven’t beaten any of Australia, New Zealand or India at a World Cup since 1992. What’s even worse though is that these three have been the best sides at the tournament so far.
India will arguably present the biggest obstacle of all, despite the loss of Shikhar Dhawan. Unbeaten so far with plenty of different players contributing, they’re arguably the best side at the tournament even though the latest cricket odds show that their price to win the World Cup is almost identical to that of England and Australia.
The Aussies and New Zealand have both been impressive themselves and there will be no letting off in those last group games. Even if they’re both through already, they won’t be showing any mercy against the hosts, knowing that defeating Morgan’s men can contribute to knocking them out of the World Cup. Will that fateful Friday defeat cost England more than first expected?