NZ v Eng, Group A, Wellington February 20, 2015

England challenge loses all credibility

Those who feared that uncompetitive games might undermine the credibility of the World Cup might reflect that it is England, for all their wealth and hubris, who are the biggest embarrassment

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Holding to Bell: Don't try and be Warner

When the cynics mentioned, ahead of this World Cup, that they were concerned that there would be too many uncompetitive games, it was generally understood that they meant those between Associate and Full Member nations.

But it is England, for all their wealth and hubris, who are in danger of undermining the credibility of this competition.

It is England, who have been at the forefront of the attempt to carve up cricket for the benefit of the "Big Three", who have played like part-timers.

It is England, who have argued for the cut in teams at future World Cups, who are devaluing the value of TV rights and short-changing ticket-holders with their failure to compete with the best teams.

It is England, with an annual revenue around £120m a year more than Ireland and Scotland, who have been brushed aside with almost embarrassing ease.

It is England who have looked as if they do not belong.

There have been many bleak days in the history of England cricket. There have been losses to Holland and Ireland, there have been whitewashes and blackwashes and decades at a time without an Ashes victory. England supporters are no strangers to pain and disappointment.

But this performance was up there - or down there, if you prefer - with the most humiliating in England's ODI history. This day-night game ended before they needed to turn the lights on.

The entire contest - and the word is used loosely - lasted less than 50 overs. It was, in terms of deliveries left unused, the biggest defeat in England's history (equalling the 226 balls not required by Australia at Sydney in 2003).

And while it was extreme, let us not pretend this result was an aberration. England's top-order was blown away in similar fashion in Melbourne. It is almost a year since they won an ODI series. They have now been bowled out in 13 of their last 19 ODIs and won only five of their last 19. It is becoming hard to avoid the conclusion that they simply aren't very good.

There can be few excuses. England have enjoyed the longest preparation period in their history before this World Cup. They have been playing ODI cricket (with just one T20I to break it up) since last August. They rescheduled the Ashes in order to concentrate on their ODI skills.

Let's be clear: New Zealand are a fine team. Tim Southee bowled beautifully, providing a masterclass in use of the crease, swing and control. He was well supported by a brilliantly dynamic captain who then played one of the most devastating innings you could hope to see. Brendon McCullum might well be a great cricketer. In normal circumstances, it would be no disgrace to have lost to them and Australia.

But to lose like this?

Good batsmen tend to face fewer great balls. Batsmen who use their feet, batsmen who stay in line, batsmen who play straight find themselves much better equipped to deal with late movement. These are basic skills, once drilled into batsmen developed in the county game.

Consider, for example, Ian Bell's dismissal. It was, for sure, a fine delivery: it was delivered from wider on the crease by Southee, pitched about middle and off and hit the top of off. Excellent bowling.

But did Bell give himself the best chance of playing it? In looking to play the ball through the covers, Bell's front foot was nowhere near the line of the ball and his bat slightly angled. Against fine quality bowling, such errors will be punished.

Equally, Moeen Ali was recipient of a truly wonderful delivery. But he, and Gary Ballance, paid for a lack of foot movement, while the captain, Eoin Morgan, simply hit one to long-on. There is nothing unlucky about that. England are deluding themselves if they use such words.

England have allowed themselves to be seduced by the idea that 320 is a par score in modern ODI cricket. They have allowed themselves to be pulled away from their strengths - percentage cricket - and dragged into a slugging match with opposition that can out-punch them.

The last time they flourished in ODI cricket - at the Champions Trophy in 2013 - they fielded a team that might have started cautiously, but at least utilised their full 50 overs. Until they learn to do that again, they will continue to lose more games than they win.

The possibility that England will not qualify for the quarter-finals is now real. With a dreadful net run-rate - the worst of any team in either group - and Bangladesh likely to gain a point from a rained off game against Australia in Brisbane, England now have no margin for error in their four remaining games. They may well have to win them all. If rain intervenes, they may be reliant on results elsewhere.

Maybe, in time, questions will have to be asked about the management, the county system, the academy, the players and the coaches that have overseen this debacle.

And maybe, in time, the ECB will reflect on their arrogant attitude to Associate Members and whether the failure of the national side is the main reason for a drop in participation numbers, an apparent disinterest from free-to-air broadcast partners and difficulty in inspiring the domestic T20 audience.

But not now. Not yet. England have to prepare for a must-win match against Scotland in little more than 48 hours. They need to rebuild shattered confidence and face a much improved side which scored 19 more runs against this same attack a few days ago.

They have to tell themselves, however improbable it sounds, that they can still win this World Cup. They might even evoke memories of Pakistan's experience in 1992; bowled out for 74 in a group game against England, they would have been eliminated had rain not intervened. The rest - the cornered tigers speech et al - is history.

England are more lost kittens than cornered tigers at present. It will not so much be a giant killing if Scotland defeat them, more the mercy killing of a sick pigmy.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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