The last four years of English ODI cricket has been the story of their batting, sweeping all before them on a relentless surge to the top of the rankings, it has been the near-neverending onslaught of their batsmen that has bludgeoned the path for them.
Faced with the modest target of 233 against Sri Lanka, few doubted they would knock it off with ease – after all they haven’t failed to chase a target as low since January 2014 – and yet in the white heat of battle, well gentle afternoon sunshine at Headingley, their greatest weapon came spectacularly unstuck in an implosion of a performance to recall the dark days of World Cups past.
Much of England’s recent batting prowess has stemmed from the fantastic starts handed to them by their opening pair, so perhaps with Jason Roy out injured and Jonny Bairstow succumbing to his second golden duck of the tournament – fans of omens might note the last opener to do the same in a World Cup, Romesh Kaluwitharana in 1996, went on to win the competition – some weakening of their batting was to be expected.
But with England batting very deep into their line-up, and even accounting for loss of the explosive Roy, their capitulation against a Sri Lanka side who have struggled so far in the tournament – picking up their only win before today by just managing to beat bottom of the table Afghanistan – cannot be so easily explained away.
At the heart of England’s implosion was an inability to string partnerships together – their last six wickets failed to record a stand of more than 26, while Joe Root’s partnership with Ben Stokes for the fourth wicket was the only one to pass 50.
It was something captain Eoin Morgan highlighted after the game: “We struggled to get enough partnerships going. We had one substantial one and a couple of individual innings but that’s not good enough to win a game.
“There were quite a few wickets that were turning points, simply on the fact that you’ve got guys that are coming in at six who average 40. We bat all the way down. Every single one is quite significant because every single one could establish a partnership that could win you the game.”
With several batsmen guilty of being dismissed via some reckless shotmaking, England will excuse this as being ‘the way they play’, reasoning that it has been this gung-ho, fearless attitude that has driven them to previously unthinkable heights in ODI cricket. However this argument does feel something of a cop-out, perhaps a necessary psychological tool in order to minimise any lasting effects of such a capitulation, but a little disingenuous nonetheless.(Twitter/ ICC)
In truth there was not enough of England’s fearless cricket on display in the opening overs of their chase – with a small chase ahead of them, a blitzing opening salvo would have had the dual benefits of going a long way to seeing them home and demoralising Sri Lanka’s bowlers who have looked short of confidence so far in the tournament.
As it was England retreated a little into their shell, happy to let the game dictate their pace – a mistake you could argue they doubled down on by blindly attacking later on when cooler heads would surely have seen them home.
One of the most culpable was undoubtedly Moeen Ali, who will not ultimately remember what was his 100th ODI for England with much fondness. Having stylishly swept a six off Dananjaya De Silva to leave England needing just 63 more runs and with five wickets in hand, the sensible option was to exercise a little restraint – instead he attempted a second successive six and hit the ball straight down the throat of the long on fielder. It was less fearless cricket, more brainless.
Suddenly a clash with their oldest and bitterest foe Australia looms at Lord’s on Tuesday, another defeat there and their World Cup hopes might begin to look a little more forlorn. England have made a habit of following up defeats with emphatic comebacks, if they are to get their tournament back on track then they will need to do so once more.