Chastened England progress in style
Crisis, what crisis? The hosts' tournament is up and running, and in quite some style too. England's crushing victory over Pakistan at The Oval hasn't quite expunged the embarrassment of their defeat against Netherlands on Friday, but it has turned the tables in the most literal sense. Having faced an early exit on account of their opening-day defeat, England are now guaranteed their slot in the Super Eights, thanks to a net run-rate that will keep them afloat whatever the result of Tuesday's clash between Netherlands and Pakistan.
"It was exactly what we needed," said a relieved captain, Paul Collingwood. "I think we showed a lot of character. Friday night was a massive blow for us, and we were under a lot of pressure to put in a good performance. But we showed how much we wanted it, and put them under pressure from ball one. A lot of people put their hands up and all 11 men can be very proud of themselves."
Credit goes where credit is due, and England's response to adversity was unequivocal. In a frank admission of their tactical shortcomings at Lord's, they made three notable team changes, with Kevin Pietersen and Dimitri Mascarenhas adding some much-needed oomph to the middle-order, and Graeme Swann providing seniority and confidence to the bowling attack.
Collingwood admitted that it was only after witnessing the success of Johan Botha and Majid Haq during South Africa's afternoon clash with Scotland on the same strip that England decided to include the second spinner. Adil Rashid came in in place of Ryan Sidebottom, but in a team performance as effective as Friday's had been abject, every move that England made proved to be a winning one.
"It was do or die, and we delivered," said Collingwood. "We got it 100% right. I'm still convinced that Friday night was just meant to happen, because it's not easy to identify the reasons for it, but what we did what we had to do today, and though we're not going to get too carried away with ourselves, we've proved to ourselves how good we can be."
Now, however, the note of caution. In front of a frenzied crowd that sensed the needs of the hour and lauded their team's efforts to the roof-tops, it would have been genuinely easy to get carried away by England's supremacy. And yet, as well as they played, they were up against a Pakistan team that, in the shoulder-shrugging estimation of their captain, Younis Khan, gave away 20-25 runs in shoddy fielding alone. If England were off the boil on Friday, Pakistan were off the Kelvin scale tonight. And peculiarly, their captain didn't seem to care.
"It won't be a disaster even if we exit before the Super Eights," said Younis. "It would be sad if we don't make it, but I have never attached too much importance to Twenty20 cricket, as it is fun cricket. I mean it is more for entertainment, even if it is international cricket. It is all for the crowd. Twenty20 is all about fun. Everybody expects players to come out and entertain."
If that seemed a remarkably sanguine response to failure, it could be argued that Younis was merely preparing his players for an almighty fall on Tuesday. Pakistan have to beat Netherlands by at least 25 runs, and that will be no easy task. When asked which was the best team he had faced so far in the competition, Collingwood chuckled loudly and struggled for the diplomatic answer. The delay in responding told us everything we needed to know.
Younis's attitude might also be taken as a self-righteous response to the hype of the IPL, from which Pakistan's players were of course barred this year due to their country's deteriorating relationship with India. Whatever the reasons for going against the global trend of taking Twenty20 deadly seriously, England would do well to take heed of Pakistan's irreverence. By an accident of scheduling, they have still to come up against a major cricketing nation that actually cares about their performance this summer.
As West Indies demonstrated in their trouncing of Australia on Saturday, giving a monkey's is an important ingredient for success in international cricket. And strangely enough, that's what England gave tonight as well. Out of their humiliation came a powerful motivation, but against South Africa later this week, they'll need more than just a righteous fury to progress against the first clinical opponents they'll have faced all year.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo