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Root struggles to paint healthy picture

Joe Root prepares to flay the ball AFP

To hear Joe Root talk the day after England's latest defeat - this time at the hands of Sri Lanka - you would have thought they had experienced one bad day.

Root suggested it was "not fair" to conclude from recent results that a chasm exists between England and the best ODIs sides. He suggested it was "very harsh" to suggest England's fielding had been substandard. He felt there were "a lot of positives" to come from the performance.

But it is not so. The statistics paint a clear picture.

England have lost 16 of their last 21 ODIs against Full Members. The last four of those have been thrashings. In the last five-and-a-half World Cups they have won five and lost 17 matches against Full Member nations. They have not won an ODI series for a year; when Ashley Giles was coach, Stuart Broad was captain and Michael Lumb made a century on debut. They have dropped several chances in recent games, including Aaron Finch before he had scored in Melbourne and Lahiru Thirimanne on 2 in Wellington. Both went on to make centuries. Sunday's result was not an aberration.

Root, of course, was in an impossible position.

The man who, at 24, had just become England's youngest World Cup centurion deserved a better fate than being wheeled out to explain the team's latest calamity. The ECB might as well have thrown out a piece of meat.

But their logic was simple. They no longer trust some of those in management to defuse situations - Paul Downton was originally pencilled in to take this press conference and every time Colin Graves speaks he undermines his executive team - and they hoped that, by producing one of the few men who has performed well in recent days, they might distract attention from the wretched performance of England's most senior cricketers in the field.

It was a desperate ploy. The ECB knew full well that a report leading with Joe Root's century would be like leading a report into the sinking of Titanic by noting that the band played beautifully.

And what else could Root say? While "We're hopeless and might as well come home now" might have been honest, it would not be appropriate. Root and co. must continue to believe even when logic cries otherwise.

Besides, amid the bluster, there was candour. The England camp has blamed, without equivocation, Sunday's defeat on the bowlers. Despite some suggesting that England's total of 309 for 6 was under par - it was the highest score (for a few hours) on the ground since December 2005 - Root was clear where the fault lay.

"We weren't disciplined enough with the ball and we leaked too many boundaries," Root said. "We couldn't quite create the pressure with the ball that they did.

"That's not hiding from the fact that we didn't bowl well. We all know that in the dressing room. We all know that in the squad. The key is to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I don't think it was a plan to bowl width and leak boundaries."

Root denied that the self-belief had drained out of the squad, but there were times when his words underlined the paucity of their ambition. For example, he suggested that England's current standings in the Group A table - leaning rather than standing might be a better description - were distorted by the fact that three of their first four games have come against Full Member nations. Had they only faced Bangladesh and Afghanistan earlier, he suggested, things may not look so bleak.

"The way our schedule is, we have these games towards the end," he said. "If it was broken up a bit more it might look slightly different.

"We want to win these two games convincingly. We don't want to just scrape through: we want to put in some really good performances and put to bed some of the things we've got wrong so far."

But there is no way to do that at this stage. There is no margin of victory over Bangladesh or Afghanistan that can paper over the cracks in this England side.

And Root's analysis grew even more modest. "We know that if we get through to the quarter-final we'll be in a position where we have nothing to lose," he continued. "There will be sides coming up against us who could potentially be quite timid and think they should beat us and that could work in our favour. By the time you get to that stage it's crunch time and every side is under pressure, not just us. Hopefully we can get those wins and build some momentum."

In short, England aim to slip into the last eight by defeating two Associate teams and Bangladesh - far from a foregone conclusion - and then, with that terribly modest and vaguely face-saving ambition fulfilled, trust that everything might just come together on the night.

The Ashes were moved for that? England have built for four years for that? They have played six months of nothing but ODI cricket for that? Players and coaches were sacked in the hope of reaching a quarter-final? Never in the history of England cricket has the bar been set so low.