World Cup Match Number 39 – Sri Lanka v West Indies (But the Aftermath After That)

First, let’s talk about tomorrow’s game between Sri Lanka and the West Indies. It is being played at Chester-le-Street. Sri Lanka come into it on the back of a dreadful performance against South Africa, West Indies hardly performed better against India. It’s a clash of two form teams.

Sourav Ganguly announced towards the end of the game today that Sri Lanka were now out of the tournament. They can still get 10 points, and Ward says that they can’t (so I’m assuming wins is the first tie breaker, then net run rate). Oh stuff it, let’s assume they can’t. So this is the first proper meaningless game of the tournament. Please inundate us with comments as the qualification basically boils down to this. England beat New Zealand and the four semi-final places are decided. If they don’t Pakistan will need to beat Bangladesh, assuming India beat Bangladesh in their meeting on Tuesday. More of that later.

Today was a must win for England, and win it they did. They did it in their template fashion – the openers went off on one, one of them made a hundred, consolidation with Root, and some pyrotechnics at the end. Maybe not the full scale fireworks show we saw in warm-up games, or against Afghanistan, but in its own way, against Bumrah and Shami, impressive enough. England made 337 for 7 in their 50 overs. A formidable score requiring a record run chase for the World Cup to win.  If Root had pouched Rohit when he was on 4, it would have been more formidable still!

I have to say, I was raging at the last 5 or so overs from India, and more importantly, in the comm box, so was Sourav Ganguly. There is, I believe, a clause in domestic India coverage that criticism of the international team is to be avoided, but good grief, how could you watch that and think anything other than anger.

England bowled well. They never let India get away, but it was telling that the only six of the innings came in India’s last over. That Dhoni even tried to do it then was taking the michael out of the punters. India started slowly, but Kohli and Sharma were knocking off the 8 an over needed during the middle spell, and with 12 overs left India were just 13 runs behind where England were – and as I said, it was a decent finish to the England innings but not unrestricted carnage. India finished just five down. FIVE. And for three of the last four overs, they seemed happy to push singles. It confused the commentators, and they were, you sense, putting serious bite marks in their tongues.

Sanjay Manjrekar, to his credit, asked Virat about those last five overs, and Kohli batted it away – what else could he do – by saying you’d need to ask those players their thought processes, but then talking some old nonsense about short boundaries, and England being well above par. The suspicions could not, and should not be allayed, but let’s take the most charitable explanation. England bowled well and restricted them, so the target was impossible.

All players owe it to themselves, and their players, to go for the win. India have a proud history, a very good team, with IPL hardened chasers, for whom 200 in 20 overs is something to be relished. 70 off five with five wickets left is something to tee off to attain. India have no real worries over net run rate, are probably nailed on for the semis, so the least they could do was have a go. Sourav was saying you can’t lose that game with five wickets remaining. You just can’t. If you are treating this as batting practice you are selling your fans, the people you need to pay your way, short. If you are taking them for granted then more shame on you. If one of the reasons I have seen has been given, that to lose this helped keep Pakistan out, then more shame them. Dhoni should explain himself. He really should. But let’s be real here. That’s not going to happen. Any Indian friends on here, if you come across anything on the wires in India, do let us know.

Look, I don’t want to take anything away from England. I feared for them today. They were taking a gamble on Roy’s fitness (and naughty that a bruised arm was allowed to be the reason he stayed off the field for the second innings – did he learn that from KP’s calf), but the 66 (aided by a catch off a wide! I’ve been there Jason) was a great start. Jonny Bairstow made a hundred, and well done to him. I loved that he went off on one this week, and the same old bores reacted the same old way (Vaughan – would it have been ok if he’d finished his conference “hashtag just saying”), and then came out and made a century. Ben Stokes was magnificent again – he really is having a superb tournament and showing the complete skills as a batsman he can sometimes show. Root caused some consternation with his knock, but he ensured there wasn’t a cascade of wickets and then probably kept Buttler out of the picture for a little too long, but 337 against India was always going to be a hard nut to crack.

The bowlers started well, and although Sharma and Kohli milked the overs of Stokes and Adil, Plunkett came on and removed Virat and it was pretty much downhill from there. Rohit’s century never seemed to be the killer knock, and even in the late 20s, early 30s overs he was still blocking back after hitting an early four in the over. A couple of barrages of fours might have caused some wobbles, but the wild wahoo just after he completed his century did for Rohit – a shot out of character and out of his class. The way Pant started, I think I would have wanted to get out of there! Had he overdosed on blue smarties, because he was driving me mad? (A word for the catch Woakes took to get rid of Pant, another superb effort).

England play their final game on Wednesday against New Zealand, who have put a couple of poor performances in for their last two games (and remember, were a missed catch by Boult from being beaten by Brathwaite last weekend). England have a dreadful record against New Zealand in the World Cup and will need to end that run. It is very likely that they will need to do so. India play their penultimate game against Bangladesh on Tuesday – a rapid turnaround, unexplainable for this tournament. If England lose, then Pakistan’s game on Friday against Bangladesh becomes the game to focus upon.

England win, go to 10 points, and will feel good about themselves. India will no doubt keep their thoughts to themselves. A penny for them.

A curious day. A curious game. A curious finale.

More curious comments below, please.

World Cup Match 38 – England vs India

It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Still in the group stage, England are near enough already playing the knock out stages, following Pakistan’s last gasp win over Afghanistan. It wasn’t meant to be this way, with the ECB expressing their determination four years ago to prioritise the one day side over the Test team, and with an undoubtedly powerful England batting order smashing teams to all parts in the years running up to the tournament. Whatever the cause, it’s gone rather wrong here, and instead of a serene march to the knockout stage, England instead will probably have to win against both India and New Zealand to get through.

There have been some items of misfortune – Jason Roy tearing a hamstring was less than ideal, but England have also brought much of it on themselves, both on and off the pitch. The removal of Alex Hales from the squad looks like so much hubris, and did so at the time. Certainly, a case could be made for it being principled, but since principles are a movable feast within the ECB hierarchy, it was hard to accept that at face value, particularly given the mess made of it. It smacked of expediency at the time and looks unwise now. It’s certainly not to say that England wouldn’t still be in this position with him in the side, but it is to say that assuming that England were so powerful it wasn’t much of a risk to kick him out has deservedly come back to bite them. Not for the first time either, and as ever, one is left wondering whether the same action would have been taken with a player deemed more critical to the team at the time.

Instead, James Vince played, showing all the shots, and getting out. His lack of permanence, the situation in which England find themselves in and the lack of a decent understudy all mean that England are quite likely to take a risk on playing Jason Roy today. He’s certainly needed.

Jonny Bairstow’s comments in the media did have a kernel of truth in them, for it is certainly the case that the media are always quick to leap on failure, but it isn’t the media that have lost three games already, and it isn’t the media who have put England under such pressure at such an early stage, they’ve managed that all by themselves. Failure is inevitably going to attract criticism, whether from former players, the media or fans, and particularly so when England’s tag as favourites at the start of the competition did have at least some grounds for it.

Now, England are perfectly capable of winning against India, and indeed against New Zealand too. Indeed, they’re quite capable of winning the next four and lifting the World Cup, but as things stand, and given the uncertainty in the side, it’s not something anyone would feel too confident about. Perhaps in some ways it benefits them to focus minds on the next game rather than any further than that. And should they win both group matches remaining, they’ll be battle hardened in a way that none of the other teams are. This is what’s known as taking the positives.

Should England lose though, there is the added awkwardness in the ECB’s decision to effectively abolish 50 over cricket as a top level domestic competition from next year, and if for no other reason the ECB will be praying that England pull the fat out of the fire this time around to avoid even more awkward questions about future World Cups. That’s one for the future, for today it’s simply about finding a way to win, on an Edgbaston pitch that may well be conducive to spin again.

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