FLaugher than a freshly baked paratha on Bengaluru’s busy Church Street and devoured with relish by Sri Lanka, this was not so much a case of England losing the World Cup at the Chinnaswamy Stadium as a complete abandonment.
In a game that needed to be won to keep their already razor-thin hopes alive, the good old positives were early and fleeting. Jos Buttler won the toss and elected to bat after twice seeing the notion of being a chasing side go down in flames. Then there was a first ball break for Jonny Bairstow, Sri Lanka refusing to review an LBW and a 45-run stand with Dawid Malan.
But afterwards it felt like the cricket equivalent of a historical re-enactment society. England’s 156 all-outs in just 33.2 overs certainly reflected some of the worse slumps of yesteryear – the kind reminiscent of campaigns like 1999 and 2015 – with wickets suppressed and a checklist of errors ticked off on the way to a dismal eight-wicket -Defeat.
At the top – or perhaps at the bottom – were the two outliers of the day. Seriously, how many singles have Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow hopped to Yorkshire and England together? And yet all Tyke telepathy disappeared in that moment, Root was well in front of his goal crease when a chop to Angelo Mathews at backward point was fired back with interest.
Little can be expected from Adil Rashid with the bat these days, the last of the oft-quoted ten first-class centuries from 2015. And at 147 for eight, England were already finished. Still, at the age of 35, Rashid should have known from experience that a wide ball does not mean a dead ball. The sharper Kusal Mendis instead recognizes his drowsiness at the non-striker’s end and completes the throw with the precision of a coconut-shy bowler.
Still, greater blame can be found higher than Rashid, both on that day in Bengaluru and in the last three weeks as a whole. A batting line-up that once set new standards in 50-over cricket has become a shadow of its former self. A few dismissals can be used to emphasize the point, but take Buttler, a generational white-ball great whose only progress on this tour has been swapping the humble edge behind him for the full-blooded one.
Few expected such a collapse a month ago, although performances since then have made it entirely possible. Last week there was talk of bringing back the fun, going harder, or even the quasi-sudden death scenario that frees the mind with its stark clarity. However, the words were spoken with a lack of conviction and their cricket followed suit.
Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. With England honking like the local traffic, they came up against a Sri Lankan team that was literally roaming around the field, constantly asking questions with the ball. None more so than Lahiru Kumara, who, with figures of three for 35, offered the kind of muscular middle-overs batting that leads English heads back to Liam Plunkett and a subsequent unfilled role.
It was a pretty smooth chase too. So cleverly, in fact, that Mathews, ominously stationed at number 7, was not needed to get Sri Lanka over the finish line. Not that the old warhorse – so often the scourge of England in the past – didn’t have a decisive say in proceedings and responded to his late call-up with the root run-out between the dismissals of Malan and Moeen Ali.
Kudos to Mathews, who was not part of Sri Lanka’s original squad but decided there was no point in sulking and instead went to training at the country’s high performance center in Colombo full of anticipation. Having hardly bowled in recent years due to his rebellious body, the 35-year-old worked hard indoors to restore his status as an all-rounder. And this medium pace proved to be ideal for both a grippy surface and for opponents plagued by doubts.
How this doubt crept in will be debated as England play the remaining four (!) games of their dismal tour. Perhaps this is simply a symptom of the aging process, as this is the first time that all 11 players in their ODI side are over 30 years old. Together with the achievements, it is a statistic that feeds the idea that a golden chapter has come to an end.
And yet it’s not that simple here. Firstly, there is a T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the USA next year. Will Buttler get the chance to defend – or, as he tried to put it on his arrival in India, attack – the second trophy in the cabinet? Not to mention, all but one of this current squad have been offered new contracts in the past week.
The player who is out? David Willey, who was unbeaten with the bat and took the two Sri Lanka wickets to fall. Just like the run-outs and England’s paratha-like line-up that day, it rather summed up how a once trend-setting ODI side has lost direction.