Disappointment may come before England in the dictionary, but at World Cups, they seem to be side-by-side. Regardless the sport, England are expected to fail to reach expectations. For Pete’s sake, even in darts, a sport where England routinely have every highly-ranked player not named Raymond van Barneveld, England crashed out to minnows Spain at last year’s inaugural World Cup.
And crash out they will in cricket if they cannot overcome a resurgent West Indies XI in the finest form they’ve been in some years.
Windies’ bowling wasn’t in top form against South Africa, as the Proteas easily chased 223. But since that match, Sulieman Benn and Kemar Roach have halted the Dutch, Bangladeshi, and Irish batsman in succession, taking 21 wickets between them. Only Ireland reached more than 115, and they were still bowled out 44 runs shy of a manageable target in favorable conditions.
Amongst the victims was Dutch all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate for a paltry seven runs. The reigning Associate Cricketer of the Year has been on lethal form at the World Cup, but even he couldn’t handle the slow left-arm orthodox spin of Benn, or at least the bit of pace Benn can bring when needed. Ten Doeschate misjudged the speed of the delivery, offering outside off-stump while the ball spun in line right into ten Doeschate’s pads just above the shoe. The umpire gave out, and Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) confirmed the ball was heading straight into leg stump.
England, on the other hand, have been as inconsistent as the plot of a Michael Bay movie, chasing one shy of 339 against India for a famous tie and successfully defending 171 against South Africa.
Yet despite such brilliant showings against the two best teams in the world, England have struggled mightily against the minnows the West Indies beat so comfortably.
England barely chased 293 against Netherlands, not taking firm control of the match until the five overs and securing victory only with eight balls to spare.
After the tie in Bangalore against India, England put up a comfortable 327 against Ireland. But an inspired 113 from Kevin O’Brien, who reached his century in only 50 balls, helped see Ireland to post their best-ever ODI innings and shock England by three wickets with five balls remaining.
And in their last match, England had Bangladesh on the verge. Bangla needed 57 from two wickets, an impossible total for their notoriously week bottom-order. But as only England can do, they made the match interesting, gifting Bangladesh nine wides in a 58-run partnership, including seven from James Anderson in one over, clinching defeat when Tim Bresnan’s final delivery of the 49th over rolled over the boundary for four.
As poor as Anderson has been with the ball, all-rounders Michael Yardy and Paul Collingwood may take the cake as the weakest links in the England XI.
Collingwood has scored only 31 from his last three innings, impressing only in his first match of the World Cup when he was stranded on 30 against Holland. He hasn’t been any better with the ball, taking only 1 for 116 from his four matches.
His poor form dates back to last summer. Collingwood has gone 15 innings since his last half-ton, his longest such drought since 2002, and has only threatened 50 once. Umar Gul mercifully bowled Collingwood out in September in Southampton after Collingwood struggled to 47 from 71 balls. Otherwise, he has been worthless.
Yardy hasn’t been any better on the subcontinent.
Although the Sussex left-hander would never be confused for a top or even mid-order batsman, Yardy showed life against Australia, scoring 39* and 60* in the fourth and seventh ODI’s while breaking up two established partnerships in the latter match with a respectable 2 for 59.
Yet he has been worse than abysmal at the World Cup, scoring a total of 19 runs in his three innings, including a 3 from 17 deliveries against South Africa that crippled England’s run rate. Yardy’s bowling has been just as pitiful, taking just 2 for 159.
Meanwhile, Yardy’s Sussex teammate Luke Wright has largely been left out of the proceedings, appearing only as a substitute. And that bears the question of ‘Why?’
Sure, Wright’s selection in the XV is a little strange. He has appeared only sporadically over the past nine months, never showing anything great as a bowler with a career bowling average of 55.20. His numbers as a batsman aren’t any more impressive, a batting average of 21.86 and 27 innings since his last 50.
Wright hasn’t sparkled, but at least he’s shown the ability to put an innings together recently, posting 32 and 24 in the 3rd and 7th ODI’s in Australia. While he has been out for two or less in five of his past 12 innings overall, he reached double figures in the other seven, including five scores of 20 or more. That is more than can be said for either Collingwood or Yardy.
And with a defeat sending England home before the quarterfinals, it may be time for England to shake up the XI in a way they haven’t yet.
Michael Yardy and Paul Collingwood have been largely ineffective, and neither has given any reason to believe a good innings is on the horizon. Luke Wright hasn’t been given a chance.
Sure, he may be bowled out for a duck — his form shows that’s more than a distinct possibility – and he’s not wont to take a wicket, but he’s more likely to put together a decent innings than either Collingwood or Yardy would be at eight.
England need every run they can get, and Wright gives the best chance for a high total.
There are no easy answers, and the argument will all be moot if England’s top order survives. But they can’t pray for that.
Eventually, Collingwood or Yardy will be called upon. If England are sitting on a low total, they might as well book a Friday morning flight to London.
This is England’s last chance to fix what hasn’t been working. Wright may not be a solution, but he’s the only untested option England have.
It may not be a safe bet, but it’s one they might just have to take.