England lose against Australia in Cricket World Cup as old habits return at the worst of times

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer

The default setting for England cricket supporters down the years, with a few brief, glorious intervals, has been one of fearful pessimism.

If it can go wrong, it will. When it does, it will do so in spectacular fashion: breathtaking collapses, ghastly whitewashes, resignations and wholesale retirements.

It is just as well the practice is there, because England's World Cup - the one they came into as clear favourites, with bludgeoning batsmen, runaway fast bowlers and a thrilling, proven style - is teetering on the brink of calamity after Tuesday's 64-run defeat by Australia at Lord's.

A semi-final place was the minimum anyone expected in familiar conditions, with a format designed to protect the big boys from being bushwhacked by a rogue result.

They may still get there with matches to spare. One win from their two remaining fixtures might be enough, although when those games are against India and New Zealand and they have already been beaten by Pakistan and Sri Lanka, there must be significant doubt.

They could yet win the thing, because they have been the pre-eminent side in one-day cricket for most of the preceding two years. Pakistan were closer to the exit in 1992 and triumphed. Australia were a Lance Klusener brain-freeze away from going home empty-handed in 1999.

But it would now be a rescue mission, a comeback story, rather than the relentless march that once appeared possible. It will be a surprise, because there are better sides in better form.

How has it come to this, quite so quickly? A week ago, Eoin Morgan was clattering a world-record 17 sixes with his side apparently cruising into the last four. Jason Roy's hamstring has deprived them of power at the top of the innings but one injury should not scupper a team.

There is the bubbling-under stuff - Alex Hales' demotion in the build-up, the late inclusion of Jofra Archer - but Hales was a congenital fault-line and Archer has been England's best bowler.

Something has changed, for a team victorious in 12 of their past 14 one-dayers against Australia to be so comprehensively beaten, for a side that haven't lost a home one-day series in four years to lose three matches in two weeks.

When it has mattered most - not in the warm-up series against Pakistan that heralded this tournament, or when hammering Australia 5-0 a year ago - England have fallen to expectations rather than risen to them.

You could sense the nerves as you arrived at Lord's on Tuesday. A sticky morning, a toss to win. Old rivals, a new front. A tournament that has underwhelmed, a match that truly mattered.

But this is still the group stage. If this brings trepidation then wait until a must-win game against Virat Kohli's men at Edgbaston, or New Zealand when the ball is darting around in Durham. Wait until the actual knockout stages.

Champions time their charge. Great teams take the pressure and use it to squeeze out their best, or at least their average.

England are dropping below where they have been and where they should be. Tuesday morning was grey and steamy, humid summer warmth coming up from the pavement and outfield. Perfect for swing bowling, if you pitched it up and let the ball do what it wanted to do, wasted if you dropped as short as often as England did.

Even then they recovered well, dragging Australia back from 173-1 to 227-5. When Steve Smith was caught off a mistimed drive for 38, he slashed the air with his bat in disgust and the pantomime boos rang out. Even on a slowish pitch, 286 was a total that felt within reach of a confident, well-drilled team.

England never looked like getting close. You could forgive Joe Root his dismissal, trapped lbw by Mitchell Starc with the sort of full, inswinging left-arm menace that gives right-handers kaleidoscopic nightmares.

Most of the other batsmen were too culpable in their own dismissals to sleep easily.

James Vince, cleaned up on the airy drive; Jonny Bairstow, hoicking a ball from outside off down deep midwicket's throat; Morgan, top-edging an unnecessary hook; Jos Buttler, thumping a mediocre delivery from the unheralded Marcus Stoinis to deep square leg.

It could have been worse. Smith missed two run-outs from the sort of range that he usually makes. Ben Stokes, batting on one leg for long periods, gave them hope in the middle overs just as he had in that defeat by Sri Lanka.

Australia - particularly the previously benign Jason Behrendorff, who took five wickets at less than five runs an over - bowled well, exploiting the conditions, taking their chances.

England made it too easy for them. There were the big shots they didn't need to play and the little ones they failed to. In the first 10 overs of their innings, they took just three singles.

It was all that this new England are no longer meant to be. It was the old England back when no-one wanted them.

It was always questionable whether this World Cup could reignite the nation's waning love affair with cricket. The converted were going to relish the thrills and spills. The uninitiated were always in danger of being bypassed by something that lives predominantly away from terrestrial television.

The chance was still there. England's exit at the opening stage of the last cricket World Cup they hosted, two decades ago, became a byword for incompetence. This would be far worse, because they are a better team, given a much greater safety net by the nine group games rather than five.

And so it will come, for their long-suffering support, to nervously watch Pakistan against New Zealand, and Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka against South Africa, West Indies and India, as well as their own men.

It has been two-and-a-half years since England lost back-to-back one-day internationals. If it happens again over the next week, there will be no second chances. The past is coming back to haunt them just when the future promised so much.


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories

Cricket on the BBC