Cricket World Cup: England's lame capitulation

Cricket World Cup: Defeat at the hands of India and Zimbabwe's unlikely win over South Africa puts hosts out of the competition
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The Independent Online
India 232-8 England 169 India win by 63 runs

THE CARNIVAL is over, or at least for England it is. Needing to beat India, or a total washout to qualify for the next stage of the competition, England's batting collapsed. Again found wanting under pressure, the ramifications of their second batting collapse of the tournament could have far reaching consequences for the game in this country. The World Cup is still likely to be a success, but England's failure to seduce their own public with a decent run in the competition will further damage a game struggling to catch the modern imagination.

English cricket's soft underbelly cannot keep taking such blows and keep getting up unmarked. On Saturday, following the cloudburst that had suspended play with England still tantalisingly poised on 73 for 3, the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, had spoken of the need for heroes. Yet English cricket is still waiting while Manchester United appear to have a monopoly on them.

The England and Wales Cricket Board can continue to delude themselves that English cricket is popular if they like. Looking around a three-quarter full Edgbaston yesterday, England supporters were notable by their absence. If voting with your feet counts for anything England's tussle here was low on their list of things to do on a chilly Sunday. It does not need an expert to see that the prognosis does not look good and this latest failure will surely have placed Alec Stewart's captaincy, as well as one or two other notable posts, in jeopardy.

Before this match, this World Cup had little of the knock-out feel of its predecessors but the hammer blow dealt to England left them feeling almost as deflated as Bayern Munich had last Wednesday night.

"The mood in the dressing-room is sombre, absolutely desolate," said David Lloyd, now at the end of his reign as England coach.

To be consigned to the also-rans on the back of something as finicky as run-rate is a tad cruel and before the tournament began, most people felt that three wins would be enough to go through to the Super Six stage. England's out-of-sorts batting may have deserved little more on the day, but it would be stony heart that could not toss some sympathy in their direction following Zimbabwe's shock win over South Africa on Saturday.

Given a rare thrashing by England at Trent Bridge last week Zimbabwe have once again proved to be the home side's nemesis.

Although Lloyd reckoned it should not have come into the equation South Africa's thumping defeat exposed England's paltry net run-rate. With India registering the highest in their group and Zimbabwe's better than England's it was always likely to be an important factor with teams finishing on the same number of points.

Drawn in a group where four of the five teams were all capable of beating each other it was England's three wins, as well as their two losses, that contributed to their early exit. Aside from the capitulation against South Africa for 103 - which initially caused their run-rate to plummet - their successes chasing modest totals were risk-free, taken at leisure rather than with frenetic intent.

This is not a criticism for winning those matches was the most important factor but the irony remains that their excellent bowling performances, cost them dear by under-exposing their middle-order to pressure situations. Their efficiency from preventing opponents from setting more challenging targets, thus provoking more urgency among their batsmen, was also a set- back to a healthier run-rate.

The deluge that prevented England's innings from going beyond the 21st over on Saturday did the hosts few favours. Apart from the huge Brumbella cover helping to green up the pitch the outfield was also slower than it had been when India had batted under blue skies.

Stewart has been criticised for winning the toss and putting India in, but Mohammad Azharuddin said he would have done the same. Certainly England's bowlers passed the bat regularly in another fine display and although one catch was missed it was not expensive.

With 20.3 overs gone, England required 160 runs to win. Faced with the most important 30 overs of their careers, England's middle and late order failed to get within 60 runs of their opponents modest total.

India's total should, perhaps, have been more but with Sachin Tendulkar in a hesitant mood and Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly both out in unusual ways - Ganguly run out after a Dravid drive was deflected on to the stumps and Dravid to a rare slog - it was middling rather than good.

The biggest blow to both England morale and the means of getting the runs was the dismissal of Graham Thorpe. When play resumed at 11.15, after light drizzle had delayed the start, Thorpe was on 31.

Beginning with a sweetly driven leg-side boundary off Javagal Srinath, Thorpe again looked positive. Unhappily for England, he added just one more run before falling foul of umpire Javed Akhtar after Srinath, coming around the wicket had speared one into his pads.

Javed has shown he is suspect under pressure before and last year in the Headingley Test against South Africa, he raised his fingers with a frequency that would have embarrassed Harvey Smith. But if England came out to the good on that occasion, his misjudgement of the line this time - the ball would have missed leg stump - sent foreboding through the ranks.

Before coming out to partner Neil Fairbrother in the most important match of his short career, Andrew Flintoff had been to the crease once in this World Cup and scored nought. He did better this time, despite having his favourite bat stolen from the dressing-room, though his inability to give the strike back to Fairbrother, now nurdling singles, meant he was eventually forced to take risks.

A natural big hitter, it is different matter doing it under pressure at this level. Following a couple of mis-hits he finally connected with one off Anil Kumble that sailed into the Rea Bank stand.

Forewarned is forearmed and Kumble, sensing an imminent repeat of the shot, pushed the next few balls through even quicker. Success was almost instant and with Flintoff struck on the back pad, Javed again raised the dreaded finger. Kumble's philosophy is straight: if you miss, he aims to hit, and the umpire was right to give the decision.

Adam Hollioake's departure to the same combination for six left Fairbrother fighting a lone cause. A brilliant finisher in tense situations, the Lancashire man could not evade the risk trap caused by the spiralling run-rate. With Mark Ealham out for a duck, fencing feebly at Ganguly, Fairbrother dutifully swung the bat, perishing to the same bowler.

Only some bright hitting by Darren Gough and Angus Fraser prevented the defeat from being greater. By 1.03pm, England's early departure from the seventh World Cup was sealed as their last two batsmen disappeared behind a sea of Indian flags. People can still enjoy this competition, but they will have to do it without England.

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