ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Bangladesh v England, World Cup, Group B, Chittagong
The rollercoaster dives again
A lack of consistency has made Andrew Strauss's team the most watchable at the World Cup, but could now cost them a quarter-final place
Sidharth Monga in Chittagong
March 11, 2011
After England had produced yet another thriller, this time a two-wicket loss to Bangladesh, Andrew Strauss was asked how England could conceivably win the World Cup after having lost to the co-hosts and Ireland. The question makes sense, for England have lost two of the nailbiters that they were in a very good position to win; they have tied a game they should have at various points lost, won and lost; and they have won two games where they had played themselves into losing situations.
Strauss paused before answering. He looked for the right words. Then he said: "We still believe we can. We have put in some very inconsistent performances. We still haven't had a game where our batting and bowling fire at the same time, but we need to do it pretty quickly now. We have got to have to do it in the last game against the West Indies." Not quite Steve Waugh's simple-we-have-to-win-every-match from the 1999 World Cup, but the closest a non-dramatic captain such as Strauss can get to it.
Critics will lay into England, and not unfairly either. They gave away 23 runs in wides in a defence of 225, James Anderson and Ajmal Shahzad bowled rubbish at the start, Anderson bowled rubbish at the end, too, and their batsmen didn't capitalise on the 109-run fourth-wicket stand between Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott that helped them recover from a poor start.
Still there has been a lot to recommend England in this tournament. And it's not just the knack of producing close games, something if you told Strauss now, he wouldn't find amusing. They have been the most perplexing side in the event so far, losing as they have to Ireland and Bangladesh, but beating as they did South Africa from a hopeless position.
Yet, except for the Ireland match, there hasn't been a game where they haven't made a comeback, ranging from notable to the remarkable. That is a trait you wouldn't associate with the English teams of the past, to make comebacks on such a regular basis, and not always from expected quarters. In the game against India - a chase of 338 - England not only put themselves into a winning position, but also tied the game from a losing position they had contrived to subsequently find themselves in. They haven't won as often as to inspire confidence, but at least they have the knowledge they have the people to put them back into the contests.
In Chittagong, after a slightly under-par score and a horrible start with the new ball - Bangladesh were 50 for 0 in the eighth over - they did a lot right. Shahzad produced three near unplayable deliveries to get his wickets, Tim Bresnan found a way through Tamim Iqbal with some extra pace and skid, Anderson produced a smart run-out, and Graeme Swann took out two despite the dew.
That they didn't seal the deal was "desperately disappointing", as Strauss put it, but he is not talking from wonderland when he says their performance hasn't "dropped off". "I don't think we are necessarily dropping off," he said. "We beat South Africa in the last game, and we did some good things in this game, but not enough to win it. Our performance hasn't dropped off. It has just been inconsistent, which is not something we want to be making a habit of, and clearly we need consistency from now on if we want to progress in the tournament."
They have also been fun to watch because going by formbook and traditional wisdom, they have no business competing at a World Cup. They have too many old-fashioned nudgers to survive in the hard-hitting, high-scoring subcontinent, they have had too many injuries, they have had too long a tour leading into the tournament, and have therefore not been at their freshest. In other words, they have ticked off almost all the boxes Pakistan usually tick when they decide to confound everybody and win a big tournament. "World Cups are funny things," Strauss said, now knowing that the next loss will be his side's last in this World Cup. "You can gain confidence just at the right moment, and get a real run of form just when you need it."
Yes, England have been fun to watch and all that, but right now they need access to that Pakistan-like space. With Pakistan winning their first three games to move towards the quarter-finals, before their slip-up against New Zealamd, we could do with a team that just about scrapes through in the early rounds, and then finds a "run of form just when you need it". Knowing how England did just that in the World Twenty20 last year, it's still not quite impossible.
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