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England’s World Cup Campaign: An Optimist’s Review

Judging from much of the media chatter, you could be forgiven for thinking that England have just endured yet another horror show at an ICC event. Failure to secure a victory against a Test playing nation, and bowing out of the competition before the quarter-finals have been the headline grabbers.

However, after looking at the data, it can be deduced that England’s World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand has actually been a rip-roaring success. Peter Moores enjoyed his most decorated World Cup as coach – admittedly it was his first, and likely only – while Eoin Morgan recaptured the ability to reach double figures with the bat.

Let’s take a look at each of England’s matches at the event, and why the Barmy Army can make the 10,000-mile trip home in high spirits.

England v Australia – England lost by 111 runs

England’s match with Australia in Melbourne formed part of the curtain-raiser for the tournament and the Three Lions wasted little time in silencing the 84,000-plus crowd. Fearsome bowling from Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes saw them take Australia’s first three wickets for a paltry 70 – a feat unmatched by any other at this year’s World Cup! If not for Aaron Finch, and Glenn Maxwell playing in a way that’s just not cricket, England would have been chasing nowhere near 343.

James Taylor’s 98 left the Poms with much to be encouraged about, and his unfair dismissal – a run-out that screamed of umpiring conspiracy – was evidence of the opposition being terrified England would chase down the further 112 needed in 8.1 overs with one wicket in hand. All in all, a solid start.

England v New Zealand – England lost by 8 wickets

Admittedly, this was hardly the most earth-shattering performance, but there was still plenty to glean from this relatively short display at the office. Winning the toss and batting proved an inspirational decision from Morgan, as England racketed to 100 in 25 overs: well on track for the par score of 250 – wait, it is still 1992 isn’t it? From thereon Tim Southee sent the innings, well, south. But 123 was a total they should have been confident of defending.

It didn’t go quite as planned, yet England could take solace from a killer spell by Chris Woakes, who snaffled two wickets in three overs, with a maiden over to boot. There is no substitute to restricting in-form batsmen when it comes to winning games, and it was Woakes again who delivered, sending Brendon McCullum’s bails flying on only his 25th delivery. Unfortunately, by then he had already tonked 77. Can’t win ’em all.

England v Scotland – England won by 119 runs

England charged to a frighteningly easy win over old foes Scotland. Moeen Ali spanked a Virender Sehwag-esque ton at the top of the order. A day which saw the doubters well and truly silenced. No further comment required.

England v Sri Lanka – England lost by 9 wickets

In a perfect batting display, a Joe Root-powered innings saw England saunter to 309 – superlative to any targets set by the trusty Windows 2000. Root’s 121 was complimented by a late cameo from Jos Buttler, and the duo’s knocks made up for an out-of-form Gary Ballance and a stodgy effort from Morgan.

If they hadn’t spent quite so much time drooling over the soon-to-be-retired Kumar Sangakkara, England perhaps would have claimed a win here, but there were far more important matters at hand. Moeen recorded the second-most economical figures for a spinner who bowled their full 10 overs against Sri Lanka at this World Cup, leaking a mere 50 – only Daniel Vettori conceded fewer. Keeping their opponents batting until the 48th over ensured Sri Lanka were at the crease for longer than in their matches with the two tournament favourites, Australia and New Zealand. A commendable day.

England v Bangladesh – England lost by 15 runs

England narrowly avoided victory against Bangladesh in a contest which typified their tournament. Limiting the Tigers to 275 from their 50 overs – 13 fewer than they managed against the Kiwis – wouldn’t have been possible without James Anderson’s glorious bowling figures of two for 45. It was a score Moores’ side would have been confident of chasing at the interval, with the newly-purchased Windows XP stating they would win providing they scored at least 114 runs from the first 23.1 overs, and lost a maximum of 2.6 wickets.

Once again, forces beyond their control prevented England from keeping their World Cup hopes alive but the Poms had much to cheer about in defeat. England’s innings of 260 was a full 260 more than Australia accumulated against the same opponents – that match was, however, a washout. Early wickets in England’s chase meant Buttler had ample time to make an impact; his 65 from 52 gave his country much to be hopeful about in the future, playing with an aggression never previously seen in his game. Far from an ebbing low, in years to come this match will be viewed as a towering crest for English cricket.

England v Afghanistan – England won by 9 wickets

England culminated their finest World Cup showing for 23 years by pummeling Afghanistan – who will never set foot in a World Cup again if the ICC have their way. Exerting their dominance, England bundled the Afghans out for 111 – their lowest score of the tournament, before biffing off the revised Duckworth/Lewis score with a full seven overs remaining, sending the travelling fans home happily with two points.

Result: England OUT – 5th in Pool A

A mathematical irregularity resulted in two wins from six not being enough to qualify for the next phase of the tournament, something the ICC will undoubtedly try to correct before the 2019 World Cup, which will be held in England and Wales.

However, there are, as usual, many positives to take from England’s curtailed campaign. Due to their early exit, the Test side now have ample time to prepare for their series against the West Indies starting on 13 April. The month lay-off may come as a disappointment, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Which is, yet another positive.

Kiwis triumph over England a result defined by captaincy

Watching a merciless New Zealand pulverise England has not been a rare occurrence over the years, but the latest harrowing defeat has little in common with its predecessors.

This was not a battle of 15 against 15. There was no fearsome Maori war dance before proceedings began. This was not rugby. This was cricket. Yet such was the unforgiving brutality of the Black Caps, this procession would not have looked alien had it taken place on a rectangular field.

Procession. This was not a match. A match requires a contest between two teams. After skittling England for just 123, New Zealand needed only 74 deliveries to hunt down their target. They faced no resistance, no struggle. This was not a fight. More, a sacrifice.

The captains personify their teams and their fortunes. There is Brendon McCullum. Baz. Under his attacking leadership, New Zealand have found the concoction to win. In the field, he ratcheted up the pressure wicket after wicket, going for the jugular in a way others wouldn’t. Who else would keep the slip cordon intact well into the mid-section of the innings? There was no consolidating once Tim Southee blasted through the middle-order. No holding him back unless he was needed later. Southee ensured there was to be no later. His seven wickets for 33 marked the best figures by a New Zealander in ODIs as England were all-out with one-third of their innings still remaining.

With rapier in hand, McCullum was equally devastating. A ferocious 77 from 25 sent the Wellington crowd delirious, a barrage of eight fours and seven maximums. He also recorded the fastest 50 in World Cup history. 18 balls. Eighteen.

Then there is England’s captain, Eoin Morgan. The contrast could not be greater. A confidence-shot Morgan had managed three ducks and a two in his four previous innings, and was in the midst of a month-long boundary drought. After making 17 scratchy runs, he was dismissed when a failed drive off Daniel Vettori was snaffled by Adam Milne, who took a magnificent diving catch. While a couple of Southee’s swinging pearlers were simply too good, brainless batting from others was less excusable. Gary Ballance – whose World Cup involvement following a five-month ODI lay-off is mystifying – succeeded only in chipping a shortish ball with width to short cover. Soon after, with England in dire straits, Stuart Broad played a nothing shot that looped straight to Vettori at mid-off – indefensible for a player of his experience. Joe Root, who dug in for an admirable 46, is the only Englishman who can look at his effort from this match with any sense of pride.

Bowling was always going to be a fruitless task, but even the most hardened of pessimists would have been surprised at just how toothless the response was. Two overs for 49 would be some achievement on a video game. But that is exactly what McCullum plundered Steven Finn for. Tame, welcoming bowling saw nine of his 12 balls reach the fence, six of them without bouncing – including four consecutively. Two New Zealand wickets may have fallen in the chase, but their memory will survive only in print. This was their utopian day.

So far, the Morgan era has served only to continue Alastair Cook’s legacy rather than end it. England’s one-day style is meek, scared even. Despite the glut of ODIs in recent months, England are still without ideas to post 300 – a score rapidly becoming the modern-day par – and are clueless as to containing the opposition with the ball.

Losses against Australia and New Zealand – two of the favourites for the tournament – are not terminal for England’s World Cup bid, the nature of the defeats is however, far more telling. Winning the coin-flip twice has resulted in leaking 342, and being bundled for 123. The opposition has been good, but not that good. Qualification hopes rest in beating Scotland, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It isn’t beyond the realms but nothing has been done to instill confidence. Their next match, a meeting with Scotland, may be a virtual knockout. Their reward for beating the trio mentioned would likely see them rewarded with a quarter-final tie against South Africa. Poms, the glass is half-full, right?

It most certainly is for New Zealand. This tournament presents a chance to banish the perennial semi-finalists tag – a feat they have achieved no fewer than six times. Everything is slotting into place. The batting. So powerful. The bowling. So efficient. The fielding. So well drilled. But perhaps most importantly, their leader’s burning fire has engulfed the rest. No longer are New Zealand the tricky, plucky outsiders. Attributed to them now is the ‘fearsome’ tag so regularly applied to their Oceanic neighbour.

Captains in limited-overs cricket can sometimes seem irrelevant in comparison to their Test counterparts. But captaincy runs deeper than who must bowl when, and what field placements should be set. This match described that more eloquently than words ever could.

Tillakaratne Dilshan inspires Sri Lanka as England are hammered again

England’s miserable tour of Sri Lanka ended in a tame defeat as they were soundly beaten by 87 runs, in the seventh one-day international in Colombo.

A Tillakaratne Dilshan-inspired effort led Sri Lanka to an imposing 302 from their 50 overs – of which Dilshan scored 101 – while he also picked up three key wickets, dismissing Moeen Ali, Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan. Sri Lanka’s comprehensive victory handed them a satisfying 5-2 series win ahead of their tour of New Zealand, which begins next week.

England’s chase never got going with struggling captain Alastair Cook continuing to grapple for form. After surviving an lbw call on his first delivery he was then dropped at slip just a few balls later, but he managed to graft his way to 32 – aided by a sweetly timed six – before eventually being caught off the bowling of Suranga Lakmal. His sluggish 49-ball innings which did not help England’s pursuit of a testing target, was an indication of a man playing for his own cause rather than the team’s.

But Cook could not be solely blamed for what was another torrid batting performance. Moeen’s first ball duck was closely followed by an ungainly slog from Hales to deep long-on, as Dilshan snared two wickets early on.

James Taylor then gloved a Lakmal delivery for just two, and when Morgan was trapped in front by Dilshan having scored four, England were in total disarray at 78-5.

Lynch pin of the series, Joe Root, managed to arrest the slide somewhat in an innings of 80, milking the bowling first with Jos Buttler (23), and later Chris Woakes (34), to make the scoreline more respectable, but they never looked likely to threaten victory. And after Root was dismissed with the score on 192, England were consigned to defeat five overs later, succumbing for just a further 23 runs.

England’s bowlers also failed to impress, their poor death bowling leading to a flurry of late runs, allowing Sri Lanka to surpass the 300 mark. James Tredwell failed to restrict the batsmen in the middle overs – leaking 50 runs from his seven overs – while pace bowlers Woakes gave away a combined 131 from their 18 overs, taking just one wicket.

However, Chris Jordan and Moeen managed to stem the tide, Jordan picking up two wickets for 55 – including the crucial dismissal of Dilshan – while Moeen’s spin bowling also earned him two scalps, as he conceded 39 runs from his 10 overs.

A huge crowd had turned out to watch the match at the Premadasa Stadium, as fans paid tribute to Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who both played their last ODI match in Sri Lanka. The two legends couldn’t give their supporters the send off they desired, making 28 and 33 respectively, but Dilshan’s century, complimented by Thisara Perera’s brutal 23-ball 50 – the second fastest by a Sri Lankan in ODI cricket – ensured a winning conclusion to their international careers at home.

England will next head to Australia in January for a tri-series that also includes India, for their final set of matches before their World Cup campaign begins against Australia on February 14.

England keep Sri Lanka to 239 before heavy rain forces postponement

Chris Woakes picked up a six-wicket haul as England bowled out Sri Lanka for 239 in the fifth one-day international in Pallekele, but a torrential downpour has resulted in England’s chase being postponed until Thursday.

Trailing 3-1 after the first four matches, returning England captain won the toss and elected to field, a decision that proved to be inspired as they turned in their best bowling performance of the series.

Steven Finn struck immediately in the first over, removing Kusal Perera for a duck, before Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara set about stabilising the Sri Lankan innings. After building a 50 partnership, Chris Jordan bowled Dilshan for 35, and Woakes picked up his first wicket in the next over, dismissing stalwart Mahela Jayawardene for two as Sri Lanka were reduced to 59-3.

Captain Angelo Mathews joined Sangakkara at the crease, accumulating steadily, before the former became Jordan’s second victim, falling in the 34th over for 40. James Tredwell then claimed his only wicket of the day, rapping Lahiru Thirimanne on the pads for just eight.

WOAKES WRECKS SRI LANKAN LOWER ORDER

Meanwhile, Sangakkara stood firm at the end, hitting 10 boundaries in a fluent knock of 91, but when he pulled straight to Joe Root at deep midwicket. Sachithra Senanayake, Thisara Perera, and Jeevan and Ajantha Mendis, all succumbed to Woakes in the space of five overs, as he single-handedly skittled the Sri Lankan tail, with two of his allotted 10 overs to spare.

All of England’s bowlers proved valuable in an impressive effort, all turning in economy rates below six. Jordan’s two wickets, and Finn’s one, complimented Woakes’ exploits well in the pace department, while Tredwell typically suffocated the middle part of the innings, giving away a mere 33 runs from his 10 overs. Moeen Ali was also solid, despite not taking a wicket, his allocation going at just five an over. Joe Root was sparingly used, but conceded only 21 runs in his five overs.

The rescheduling of England’s innings to tomorrow, allows them to chase a full target as opposed to a revised Duckworth/Lewis figure. The relatively low target presents Cook with a good opportunity to score some runs, while James Taylor will look to build on his 90 from the last game, and cement his place in the side.

The match will resume at 2.30pm local time on Thursday, with England needing a victory to keep the seven-match series alive.