A couple of days ago, I wrote about how boring and predictable this World Cup was and how I wasn’t really paying attention to it any more. Well, England managed to reawaken my interest in an unexpected way yesterday.
In some senses, it should have been a predictable result, since Sri Lanka had won the last three World Cup games between the two sides. However, a lot has changed since 2015. Sri Lanka have been unable to replace key batsmen like Sangakkara, Jayawardhene and Dilshan, and their key bowler 35 year old Malinga now has a body more reminiscent of a middle-aged dad than an international sportsman. England, on the other hand, have replaced Ian Bell and Gary Ballance with good ODI batsmen (and James Vince).
Most fingers are being pointed at the pitch, which was quite a bit slower than you’d normally expect from Headingley. That doesn’t entirely explain away England’s poor performance though, since they did manage to win last year’s ODI series in Sri Lanka 3-1 in what must have been similar conditions.
I personally blame James Vince, or at least his (and Liam Dawson’s) selection. England’s surge to number one in the ODI rankings has been powered by their phenomenal batting. Since Trevor Bayliss took over in 2015, seven of England’s current World Cup squad average over forty with a strike rate around or over one hundred. The two batsmen who don’t are Vince (Ave: 26.50 SR: 89.22) and Dawson (Ave: 7.00 SR: 82.35).
There is a batsman with a significantly better record than Vince available: Alex Hales (Ave: 41.28 SR: 96.00). Hales was excluded from the team by the ECB due to his behaviour off the field, but the real cause of his omission is that he isn’t well-liked within the dressing room. For all Ben Stokes has done wrong in recent years, you can see he has been welcomed back warmly by the ECB and the team in general. Whilst Alex Hales is undoubtedly lucky to be available (The punishment for a second recreational drug finding in most sports is at least six months), the primary reason for his removal from the squad seems to be not coming clean with his teammates beforehand or apologising profusely enough after it was revealed.
At the time, the ECB probably thought it would have little impact on their campaign because they believed there was an abundance of talent just waiting for an opportunity at the international level. Eoin Morgan trashed Hales when given the opportunity, saying that, “Unfortunately Alex’s actions have shown complete disregard for those values. This has created a lack of trust between Alex and the team.”
Now England are in a situation where they are missing a world-class opener and they genuinely need to win at least two of their next three games to guarantee qualification for the semis. Those three games are against the top teams in the competition, New Zealand, Australia and India. Three teams who would love to knock a dangerous England team before they can even reach the semi finals. Can England afford to wait another game or two for Roy to regain fitness? Can they afford to keep playing Vince?
You would think that potentially failing to reach the semi-finals in a home World Cup, the format of which was designed to make such an event extraordinarily unlikely, would be enough to make the selectors and team swallow their pride. Unfortunately, as most of our readers know, that isn’t how the ECB works. Having spent the last four years devoting most of their resources towards winning this competition and hiring a white ball-centric head coach, they are still prepared to see it collapse in flames rather than admit they might have been wrong.
All of that said, England should still have enough to limp into the knockouts. Just one win from their last three games should be enough to ensure qualification unless Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, or the West Indies manage a truly remarkable run of form. England’s aura of invincibility has completely disappeared though. Australia are the only other team in the top four to have lost a game so far, and that was against fellow top team India.
The England team will be watching tonight’s game nervously, because if the West Indies can win the game against New Zealand then they could potentially mount a charge for the fourth spot. Given the form of India and Afghanistan so far in this World Cup, I’m not expecting an upset in the morning game. That said, they did tie their last ODI meeting in last year’s Asia Cup so perhaps Afghanistan can pull out another big performance.
If you have any comments about England’s performance, todays games, or anything else, please post them below.