Duped by their own naivety
Does today's debacle in Hamilton represent the true nadir of England's one-day fortunes? To listen to Paul Collingwood in the immediate aftermath of the humiliation was to suffer death by a thousand clichés, as he spoke of the "disappointment in the dressing-room" and the need for "plenty of talking". But it was the hollowness in his eyes that told the truest story. All too often in the past, England have been rightly accused of not caring about one-day cricket. Under Collingwood, however, they care so deeply it's tangible. It's hard to know whether that makes their current predicament better or worse.
Until Collingwood and Peter Moores joined forces last June, one-day cricket was the banished evil twin in the England set-up. Nobody liked it, nobody cared for it, and the numbingly awful results that the team scraped together - particularly overseas - were mitigated by the indifference with which they were compiled. In the last six months, however, with England's Test performances on the slide following back-to-back defeats against India and Sri Lanka, England's one-day successes have been an unfamiliar source of succour. In September, Collingwood's men forged famous triumphs against both opponents to give the impression, at last, that they had the format licked.
Oh what it is to have one's assumptions pricked. The received wisdom in New Zealand and elsewhere was that this one-day series would be shamefully one-sided. So it is proving, but no-one imagined which side would be glowing red with embarrassment. The Kiwis were in disarray two weeks ago. Their best bowler, Shane Bond, had been banished for his connections with the Indian Cricket League. Their captain and a raft of established stars were missing in action. Two thumping defeats in the Twenty20s confirmed the impression of England's superiority.
And now this. The statistics of England's opening defeats at Wellington and Hamilton are stark enough on their own. Pathetic totals of 130 and 158, compiled at a tortuous pace and overhauled at nearly twice the rate; three run-outs in each game, including the captain twice in two balls; and a solitary half-century in 22 visits to the crease.
But the minutiae make equally desperate reading. New Zealand were electric in all aspects of their cricket, not least the wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, whose stunning one-handed pluck to dismiss Ian Bell was the prelude to a scorching innings of 80 not out from 47 balls. Jesse Ryder - derided for his puppy fat, prickly reputation and a wealth of similar weight-related sins - matched him blow-for-blow in an onslaught that brought Colin Milburn firmly into the mind's eye, and England's surrender was signed and sealed when Ryan Sidebottom dropped a laughably simple return catch with 21 runs still required.
|It almost makes one hanker for the dog days of Duncan Fletcher, when indifference in coloured clothing seemed a price worth paying for their continued success at Test level|
Maybe it would all have been different had the rain not intervened. When play was halted for two-and-a-half hours after 15 overs of the match, England were cruising on 85 for 2, with Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen dominating in their contrasting and - fleetingly - complimentary styles. But for the second match running, England's shocking naivety completely derailed their ambitions. Pietersen walked across his stumps in a manner that is increasingly beginning to resemble a weakness, Collingwood belied his reputation as England's most thoughtful one-day cricketer with a crass call to Jacob Oram's tracer-bullet arm, and Owais Shah flapped loosely at an offcutter, all in the space of 14 balls.
At 97 for 5 in the 19th over, it was time for a bit of nous to kick in. But England instead opted for assisted suicide, their frazzled thinking crystallised in the performance of Ravi Bopara, who must surely be replaced by Dimitri Mascarenhas for Friday's third match in Auckland, both to save him from himself, and to save his team-mates from his running. Twelve months ago, Bopara was England's shining beacon of hope at a dismal World Cup; now he's a flickering tea-light of a cricketer. His self-confidence hasn't recovered from a bruising debut Test series in Sri Lanka before Christmas, and the panic in his performance spilled over to his team-mates.
It's been a traumatic few days in the land of the long white cloud. England are all too accustomed to under-estimating the threat posed by New Zealand, but rarely have they been ambushed quite like this. It almost makes one hanker for the dog days of Duncan Fletcher, when indifference in coloured clothing seemed a price worth paying for their continued success at Test level. Right now, however, the team has mislaid every one of its saving graces.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo