One of the more concise verdicts after their 2-0 defeat and ultimate, irrevocable collapse in the finals of the triangular one-day tournament was: "We started it brightly but by the end it had all come tumbling round our ears." Since this was delivered by the team manager and the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, the severity of the conclusion should not be doubted.
Graveney was typically candid and rational in assessing the potential damage of the later performances in the competition. England's 162-run defeat at the MCG in the second final was their second worst in the 28 years of limited-overs internationals. Their total of 110 was their third lowest. It was their sixth defeat in seven matches. The chances of those who were not chosen for the Australian sojourn now appearing in the World Cup have risen accordingly. Enormously, that is.
"It would be a dangerous path for us to go down to alter our side radically now," said Graveney. "Before the last World Cup they were changing the team every other game. The batsmen we've had here I still believe are the best we've got in this form of cricket. At some stage you have to back your judgement and say that's your team."
No wholesale changes then but Graveney knows and all but acknowledged that the squad of 15 for the World Cup will not be derived wholly - as looked possible when they started blazing a trail five weeks ago - from the 16 who took part in the Carlton & United. Graham Thorpe is the obvious contender for a place in the middle order. He left the Ashes tour early with a recurrence of his back injury but it has apparently responded well to arduous examination. He will be back, back or no back.
Michael Atherton is another who will now be seriously considered to open and it is possible that Alec Stewart, despite his preference, will drop down the order again. As Mark Ramprakash contributed so effectively in the Test series it would be silly not to discuss him until there is a unanimous decision to place his name on the team sheet. If swashbucklers are needed Matthew Maynard will be mentioned.
These selectors have justifiably made a virtue out of continuity and their loyalty to certain players has been noteworthy. But despite Graveney's calm approach nothing that he said a few hours before the flight home could conceal the hideous mess that England now find themselves in.
The batting is in grave shape. Only Graeme Hick ultimately acquitted himself as well as might have been hoped and expected, scoring three centuries and a half-century in his 12 innings. Hick, unfortunately, is the sort of player who only has to fail twice in a row for the telephone lines to the England and Wales Cricket Board to be jammed demanding his head. It will not be served up. He cannot win the World Cup alone but his contributions will be crucial.
Of the rest Neil Fairbrother at first enhanced his reputation as a one- day batsmen of wonderful temperament and technique but when the ball began to fizz in short of a length on his off stump he was usually found to be obliging in presenting the catchers behind the wicket with something straightforward to get their hands round.
The batting, as Graveney observed, has disappointed for most of the 12 matches of the tournament. The nadir was reached on Saturday but it had been coming. It is a worry that Australia have Michael Bevan, the quickest, smartest (and maybe most selfish) one-day batsman in the world coming in at No 6 and England will probably make do with either Adam Hollioake or Vince Wells.
England were given insubstantial starts far too often. A jaded Stewart adopted the policy of hitting his way out of trouble, Nick Knight scored 315 runs but was escalatingly out of form. Batsmen have to perform as a unit, England's still do not. Each should have a specific role but they are inflexible.
The bowling performed judiciously and Darren Gough was lordly. He has appeared in all England's 17 international matches this winter. Gough may not quite possess Glenn McGrath's imperious skills but his heart and lungs burst in the cause.
The attack will do well on English pitches in the World Cup in the spring but it is not untouchable. Nor should it be forgotten that other nations also have the sort of medium pace merchants who will profit on the greener tops. Angus Fraser and Peter Martin are candidates to return but the name you can be sure of, it is being said, is Ian Austin.
Englanders, as Denis Rogers, the chairman of the Australian Cricket Board described this island race at the tournament's presentation ceremony, used to come down under and be derided above all for their fielding. It is not like that any more but they continue to possess one serious shortcoming. The men within the inner circle continually fail to hit the stumps to claim run-outs.
It would be wrong to say that Ricky Ponting of Australia never misses but, boy, he hits when it matters. England practice this art seriously and they look highly convincing. If they do not start doing it more often in the middle, or actually doing it at all they can make all the runs they want but they will not win the World Cup.
There is one more aspect of the one-day game which England must develop but may not have the time to do so by May. In his captaincy of Australia in 10 of their 12 games Shane Warne was innovative and adventurous. He changed his bowlers repeatedly (another difference is that he had 10 at his disposal and it was never entirely possible to rule out wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist sending down a few unplayable off-breaks) and perpetually placed attacking fields, perhaps recklessly so.
Warne himself thought he might have over-indulged this ruse but it perplexed England's batsmen. Australia won the tournament. Stewart, a commendable professional, led the side as England's captains do, if not by rote, then not with insight and gusto either.
At the start of this latest six-week adventure in the national team's journey it did not seem possible that this sort of inquest would be held. They won four out of five matches and they looked to have learned how to win the close ones. But England have now not only returned whence they started, they are further back than that. At Melbourne on Saturday they were a quivering, wobbly mass when what was demanded was a staunch, upright rock.
There are those among us who believe England can win the World Cup on home soil but to do so the team have to believe it. At present they do not and they have 13 weeks to find the faith.
A C Gilchrist c Knight b Croft 52
95 min, 64 balls, 6 fours
M E Waugh c Hick b Gough 1
16 min, 12 balls
R T Ponting c Fairbrother
b Hollioake 37
65 min, 43 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
D S Lehmann c Hussain b Wells 71
91 min, 75 balls, 4 fours
D R Martyn b Mullally 57
99 min, 80 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
S G Law not out 20
30 min, 18 balls, 1 four
S Lee not out 20
9 min, 9 balls, 2 sixes
Extras (lb 10, w3, nb1) 14
Total (for 5, 50 overs )272
Fall: 1-11 (Waugh), 2-92 (Ponting), 3-104 (Gilchrist), 4-216 (Lehmann), 5-244 (Martyn).
Did not bat: B P Julian, *S K Warne, A C Dale, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Gough 9-1-55-1 (nb1) (5-1-20-1, 2-0-21-0, 2-0-14-0); Mullally 10-1-53-1 (w1) (6-1-21-0, 2-0-9-0, 2-0-23-1); Ealham 6-0-41-0 (w1) (3- 0-21-0, 1-0-13-0, 2-0-7-0); Wells 5-0-34-1 (3-0-19-0, 2-0-15-1); Croft 10-0-40-1 (w1); Hollioake 10-0-39-1 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 44 min , 66 balls. 100: 88 min, 126 balls. 150: 135 min, 204 balls. 200: 165 min, 244 balls. 250: 201 min, 291 balls. Score after 15 overs: 68 for 1.
Gilchrist 50: 86 min, 61 balls, 6 fours.
Lehmann 50: 72 min, 59 balls, 3 fours.
Martyn 50: 87 min, 72 balls, 2 fours, 1 six.
N V Knight run out 4
10 min, 9 balls
*+A J Stewart c Lee b Julian 32
60 min, 36 balls, 5 fours
G A Hick c Dale b McGrath 0
4 min, 2 balls
N Hussain c Gilchrist b McGrath 0
1 min, 1 ball
N H Fairbrother c Gilchrist b Dale 0
4 min, 2 balls
V J Wells b Warne 23
73 min, 54 balls
A J Hollioake c Gilchrist b Dale 7
6 min, 8 balls
M A Ealham b Warne 12
38 min, 35 balls, 1 four
R D B Croft not out 13
35 min, 22 balls, 1 four
D Gough c Gilchrist b Julian 6
18 min, 15 balls
A D Mullally lbw b Warne 9
6 min, 10 balls, 2 fours
Extras (w1, nb3) 4
Total (31.5 overs) 110
Fall: 1-9 (Knight), 2-10 (Hick), 3-10 (Hussain), 4-13 (Fairbrother), 5-43 (Stewart), 6-50 (Hollioake), 7-72 (Wells), 8-88 (Ealham), 9-100 (Gough).
Bowling: McGrath 6-0-26-2; Dale 10-1-27-2 (one spell each); Julian 6- 2-18-2 (nb3) (3-0-5-1, 3-2-13-1); Waugh 4-0-23-0 (w1); Warne 5.5-0-16- 3 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 66 min , 82 balls. 100: 124 min, 183 balls. Score after 15 overs: 51 for 6.
Umpires: D B Hair and D J Harper.
AUSTRALIA WON BY 162 RUNS
Man of the match: D S Lehmann.
Men of the series: G A Hick and G D McGrath.
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content