Six men walked the streets of Christchurch on Sunday morning. They walked through the Cricket World Cup Zone. Past the cricket memories exhibition. Beyond the Le French Cricket field. And then right past a sign that said, "Go the BLACKCAPS, Smash 'em for 6."
They looked athletic, dressed in nice Sunday bar casual attire, and wore their caps low. They had that I'm-not-going-to-work-today facial hair. They walked in a tight pack, through wrecked buildings and fenced-off zones. They could have been any six mates looking for a Sunday feed.
These were six mates looking for a feed, and they were also six mates who'd been smashed for six, or seven, by New Zealand just a few days before. More than a third of the squad, who, within a week of the tournament, were below Bangladesh, Scotland and Afghanistan on the points table.
One look at any of the six faces and you knew that. It was as if England's net run rate of -3.952 was etched on their faces.
Exactly 24 hours later the team is batting against Scotland. A team that has a few decent bowlers, a spin bowler slower than an ECB explanation and a bunch of medium-pacers they try to squish into ten overs. Moeen Ali is stylish, even as he almost finds cover, he makes batting look easy and pretty. Ian Bell is less style and more struggling graft, he was lucky to survive an lbw. When Scotland aren't bowling wides he plays and misses regularly. Against the slow, steady and really slow bowling of Majid Haq, he scores at less than a run every two balls.
At one stage, as Bell faces Haq, there are four dot balls. Time actually stands still. The game of ODI cricket has an out-of-body experience and watches itself in a coma.
Would Dhawan, Rohit, Warner, Finch, McCullum and Guptill have been so comatose?
But, England did score. They scored well. Well enough. While carrying Bell, Moeen manages to keep England's scoring rate at 5.73 after 30 overs. They are 172. They have 20 overs and ten wickets and five overs of Powerplay to come.
They have blown off the cobwebs, now is the time to take the shackles off as well. They didn't. Their run rate went from 5.7 to 6.
Bell's wicket brings Gary Ballance in. There are times when his batting seems to have been prepared by Southern African cricket scientists to work in all conditions. But there would be almost no situations when you want Ballance to come in after the 30th over of an ODI. England refused to change their order. Their batting order has seemingly been passed to them by supernatural beings. They'd rather face persecution here on earth, than change it and offend their guardians.
Bell's wicket begat Ballance. Moeen's wicket Joe Root. Ballance's wicket begat Eoin Morgan, Root's begat James Taylor. It was written.
When Moeen was out, he had made 128 out of their first 200 runs. He was batting like most of the other batsmen fantasise about. When he went out, England had a mini-collapse. It wasn't a Tim Southee-like experience, but it was a misstep. That can happen. The Scottish bowling was disciplined and made you hit it. And Matthew Cross pulled off a stumping so good that wicketkeeping purists lost their collective continence.
It was the bit afterwards that was a worry. With no pace, gentle reverse swing and a spinner whose only weapon was float, Morgan and Taylor really struggled. This is England's third game of the tournament. A tournament they don't look like winning, and may not qualify for the second round of. It may be too harsh to even rate them poorly for making over 300, when 13 of their last 19 innings they hadn't even completed.
But they still limped, rather than strutted to 300. They can say it was a par score, they can say they got some form back, they can be happy with Moeen's batting, but they can't be honestly happy with their last 20 overs. They can't be happy that Moeen scored 42% of their total runs but went out in the 35th over.
In Morgan's first 21 balls, he made 11 runs, that was when he was missed at deep midwicket by Freddie Coleman. Taylor made 17, from 26 balls, as Jos Buttler watched on waiting for his number in the queue to be called.
Buttler's first ball was a boundary. It looked like the ball had been waiting for him to come out. It was the last ball of the 45th over. Buttler and Morgan put on 45 in 23 balls. Buttler was out just before the last over.
England's last over had them starting at a score of 299. Josh Davey started with a wide. Morgan hit the second ball straight up and was caught. Chris Woakes did the same. Stuart Broad walked across his stumps on the hat-trick ball and took a leg bye. Steven Finn flicked a ball out to the midwicket sweeper. Broad missed the next one. Broad missed the one after that. Finn stole a bye.
In the last over of an innings, with their captain set and now in form and two allrounders yet to come in, England got a wide, took a bye and leg bye, and their number ten made a single. That was the sum total of their output against an Associate nation.
In their last 20 overs, England failed to score six runs in an over 10 times. They lost eight wickets. They kept their batting order. And moved their run rate up from 5.7 to 6.
They won the game. They found some form. If you're judging them on the recent England scoreboard, it was above par, but still well below par. But the cobwebs and shackles are still on. And today they looked self-imposed.