ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
WI v England, World Cup 2011, Group B, Chennai
Topsy-turvy England aim to finish the right way up
England have been wildly inconsistent, and are now on the verge of exiting in the first stage of a tournament that was designed to coddle the big boys
Siddarth Ravindran in Chennai
March 16, 2011
Over the past ten months, England have achieved their loftiest ambitions in two formats of the game: they were crowned Twenty20 champions after a convincing run in the Caribbean, and retained the Ashes in Australia with a commanding victory over Ricky Ponting's men. In pursuing the highest honour in the third format, however, they have been wildly inconsistent, and are now on the verge of exiting in the first stage of a tournament that was designed to coddle the big boys.
The league phase was supposed to be a month-long snoozefest, in which the smaller teams in world cricket enjoyed some time in the limelight before ceding the stage to the established powers for a high-stakes final fortnight.
The memo clearly didn't reach England, who have put together the most topsy-turvy league campaign in World Cup history, both in terms of the results - defeats to lower-ranked Ireland and Bangladesh, while taking points off the group favourites, India and South Africa - and in terms of the heart-stopping highs and lows of each match itself. Their most humdrum game was their opening victory in Nagpur, and even that came after the no-hopers from Netherlands had set a stiff target of 293.
In every match in which England have dropped points, they were in a dominant position before frittering their advantage away: Zaheer Khan's reverse-swing turned the game against India after England had muscled their way to 281 to 2 at the Chinnaswamy; a pink-haired Kevin O'Brien scripted Ireland's greatest day in cricket after they were headed for a thrashing at 111 for 5 chasing 328, and a nerveless Shafiul Islam carved 24 quick runs to stop Bangladesh fans from pouring out of the Chittagong stadium, and start partying in it.
"I just think we haven't played a good 100-over match," Jonathan Trott said. "We haven't played consistently both sides - we've been good with the ball and poor with the bat, great with the bat and poor with the ball. The bowlers bailed us out against South Africa. As a batting unit we've got to put our heads down and get a big score, or chase down whatever West Indies set."
One of the reasons for England's troubles is the batting Powerplay, a concept that has injected unpredictability into the tournament as most teams have struggled to use it properly. The best that England have managed against the Test teams in the group is a poor 33 for 2 against Bangladesh, while against India they lost the plot and nearly the match with a collapse of 4 for 25. In a low-scoring tussle against South Africa, they used it too late to cause any damage.
"It changes a batsman's mindset, the opposition team brings their best bowlers on," Strauss said. "I don't think we have done it as well as we would have liked, but hopefully that will change, it's certainly an important period of play in the match, but it's only five overs out of 50."
Related to the Powerplay botch-up is the lack of runs from the lower order. Duncan Fletcher's near-obsession with making the bowlers handy with the bat has meant England's tail has been productive over the past decade, but in this World Cup the fall of their fourth wicket has generally been the precursor to a collapse. Some mighty hits from the bowlers rescued a point in Bangalore, but there have been few runs from the lower-middle order onwards in the past three matches.
The absence of Stuart Broad for the remainder of the tournament with a side strain exacerbates the problem, but it is his fast bowling that will be missed more, as the other experienced quick bowler in the squad, James Anderson, is badly out of form. His mastery of swing with the red ball was one of the main reasons for England's Ashes victory, but he has been lacking that control with the white ball. The nadir was perhaps the 91 runs he leaked against India, but he was also wasteful at the death when Bangladesh were on the ropes at Chittagong, serving up a nine-ball over when line and length was essential.
Strauss had to deflect plenty of questions over Anderson's form in Tuesday's press conference, and whether the fast bowler plays in a campaign-defining match against West Indies could now depend on the unwell Ajmal Shahzad's availability. "Jimmy has had a tough time in some of the matches in the World Cup," Strauss said, "but we all know what a quality performer he is, he's done it for us over and over again in course of the winter and previously, so his name is very much in the mix for selection."
Anderson had scrambled a crucial leg-bye the last time these two teams met in the World Cup, in Barbados four years ago, in a match would have fitted perfectly with England's nerve-shredding run in 2011 - they prevailed with one wicket and a ball to spare. That victory meant that the Test opponent against whom England have their best win-loss record in World Cups is West Indies. It's hard to say whether that's good news or bad for England fans, given their side's extraordinary showing over the past month.
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