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.