In the 21 world ODI tournaments that have been held to date, England have made it to the knockout stages of 13 despite often being behind the curve in limited-overs cricket. In fact, their 6-13 win-loss record in knockout games played in global tournaments is the worst after Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Kenya, all of whom have played two games or less. Runaway favourites, bitter rivals, plucky underdogs - they have lost to opposition of all manner. And they have lost in every way, from positions of dominance to narrow defeats in see-saw games. We take a look at some of the most memorable/disappointing ones, depending on where your loyalties lie.
This was England's first big tournament final and it was against Clive Lloyd's West Indies. England were underdogs but still their approach to the game was baffling. After Viv Richards smashed 138 runs to set them a target of 287 from 60 overs, Geoffrey Boycott and Mike Brearley played out two-thirds of the England innings to put on an opening stand of 129. Progress was so slow that when Clive Lloyd dropped Geoffrey Boycott at mid-on, rumours began to circulate that he had done it on purpose to keep Boycott, who had taken 17 overs to reach double figures, at the wicket. Once the opening stand ended, all it took was a fiery spell of fast bowling from Joel Garner to complete the formalities. As Garner himself said, "We (West Indies) were grateful to England for their tactics. By the time they [the openers] were gone, it would have taken a superhuman effort to retrieve the situation."
A slow Old Trafford pitch with low bounce meant England were in unfamiliar territory despite being the hosts. India's medium-pacers "only had to bowl a steady length" to trouble the English batsmen, as the Wisden Almanack noted. Add two run-outs - of Allan Lamb and Ian Gould - to all of this, and they could do no better than reach 213 at the end of their 60 overs. India breezed through their chase, as Sandeep Patil fashioned a whirlwind 51 off 49 balls to close out a memorable semi-final win.
This was among their narrowest losses on the big stage and it was down partly to harakiri in the middle of a well-paced chase. Mike Gatting and Bill Athey were coasting at 135 for 2, chasing 253, when the former attempted an uncharacteristically risky reverse-sweep. The shot ended up making him look clueless, and the ball looped up to Greg Dyer behind the stumps. From there on, it all went downhill for England and, despite Allan Lamb's best efforts, they fell short in the end.
Or simply put, the final act in Pakistan's miracle of '92. Another big final, this time against an unfancied underdog who had won just one of their first five games. First, Graham Gooch put down Imran Khan, the Pakistan captain, when he was on 9. Imran went on to make an important 72. He invoked the 'cornered tiger' metaphor one last time, and his men responded with a stunning bowling performance. Neil Fairbrother was the only England batsman to put up a fight, as Wasim Akram's magic and Mushtaq Ahmed's wiliness got rid of their core. In the end, they fell 22 runs short.
In the five World Cups preceding this one, England had never been knocked out before the semi-final stages. This time around, however, they set the template for two decades of abject World Cup performances with an epoch-defining loss. Sri Lanka, the hugely unfancied underdogs, were on a rapid ascent at the time, but England had no inkling of how steep that rise would be. Batting first, England managed 235, due largely to 67 from Phil DeFreitas, scored as a pinch-hitter coming in at No. 5 and, remarkably, his first ODI fifty in what would prove to be his final innings. Sanath Jayasuriya, who had picked up two wickets and effected Robin Smith's run-out earlier, went bonkers with the bat, hammering 82 off 67 balls. In hindsight, even a total of 300-plus would not have been sufficient for England, as Sri Lanka polished off the chase with nearly ten overs to spare, before going on to claim the title with victory over Australia in Lahore.
Fifteen years later, another fast-paced Sri Lankan opening partnership downed England in a World Cup quarter-final. After England had ambled to 229 in their 50 overs, Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan put together a 231-run stand, crushing their hopes of progressing to the semi-finals for the first time since 1992. It had been a see-saw tournament for England, with a string of close games in the group stages, but this was as comprehensive a drubbing as it gets.
This was the closest defeat for England in a major tournament final since the 1987 World Cup, and they capitulated from a point where they needed 28 off 18 balls with six wickets in hand. Ishant Sharma was the wrecker-in-chief this time, picking up two key wickets in the 18th over. In the final over, with England needing 15, R Ashwin held his nerve. Thirty-eight years on from the first World Cup, after six shots at winning at home, England's major world ODI trophy cupboard remained as barren as ever.