Your reactions, please, to England’s latest larruping, this time by nine wickets, at the hands of Sri Lanka. Or to be more specific, at the hands of Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne.
England’s reaction to setting a target of 310 was telling. To my eye, the smiles among the squad, as Buttler and Woakes walked off, suggested a kind of job-done satisfaction. 309-6 was a very respectable total, but not a match-winning one. England still seem to think they’re living in the early 2000s, when a 300-plus ODI score was an impregnable rarity. The world has moved on, and left them behind.
England should have set themselves 340 – as Australia, New Zealand or South Africa would have done – and been dissatisfied only to make 309. It bespeaks their collective lack of ambition that, to them, 309 was ample. True, they made 148 off the last 15 overs, but the batsmen went to sleep, perhaps fatally, in the middle of the innings.
In fairness, 340 may still not have been enough, given the limpness of England’s bowling, and on this front Peter Moores has some very serious questions to answer. As the same-y combination of Anderson, Broad, Woakes, and Finn had proved inadequate against both Australia and New Zealand, why was it likely to be effective now? Why on earth was James Tredwell left out, again? Wouldn’t Ravi Bopara’s bowling have proven useful? And to return to the batting, hands up anyone who thinks playing Gary Ballance at three remains the wisest option?
The sobering thought is that when, in years to come, we look up this World Cup in the record books, it will probably say that England were knocked out in the quarter finals, which doesn’t sound too bad, on paper at least.
As has been discussed ad infinitum for months, only the most sclerotic mindset could judge that a team should be able to qualify for the knockout stage having lost – very heavily – in all three group-stage matches against test opposition, as England have done.
I can now write a sentence new to English cricket’s lexicon: England must beat Afghanistan to progress. And that might not be entirely straight-forward, given how well the Afghans bowled against Scotland last week. To those who say ‘it was only Scotland’, I’d add the rejoinder that many of the deliveries they sent down would have troubled accomplished test batsmen.
The Afghanistan-Scotland fixture was one of the closest and most exciting in World Cup memory, and yet in all likelihood neither side will qualify for the 2019 tournament. The ICC’s logic for the format change, as we’ve talked about here before, is to reduce the number of ‘uncompetitive’ matches. Meanwhile, England – whose qualification is effectively automatic – have during the last fortnight been humiliated in three of the least competitive ODIs in history. England, as plutocrats, are – of course – one of the sacred Big Three.
Can anyone explain to me how this arrangement differs, in any meaningful way, from corruption?