Towards the end of the match in Chittagong two nights ago, Jimmy Anderson looked tired and confused. For one frightening moment through the binoculars he appeared close to utter despair.
It was not simply that Bangladesh were winning a match that they had seemingly lost – though they were – it was something more than that. Etched on Anderson's forlorn, haggard face were the travails of a long winter. He did not know where to turn and, if he had known, he did not have the energy or the will to get there.
Anderson was spent. He hardly knew how to bowl, let alone where to bowl. He had discovered the pitfalls of running on empty, the only one of which matters is that you are going nowhere. As he turned, wondering what the hell he might do to take a wicket, to prevent Bangladesh scoring, to make the damned ball go straight, the portrait of Dorian Gray might have been unveiled.
The day before the match, England's demeanour had been relaxed. Buoyed, it seemed, by their last-gasp win over South Africa, they would have Bangladesh, floored after being bowled out for 58 by West Indies, on a plate. It turned out to be the defiant laughter of a condemned man.
For the second time in a fortnight, England lost a match because they assumed they had won it. The first time was against Ireland when they had their opponents at 111 for five chasing 328 to win. Only a once-in-a-lifetime innings could deny them. As the world knows, Kevin O'Brien proceeded to play it.
Bangladesh, apparently in control of proceedings, had done what they had done dozens of times before and blown it. Wickets had suddenly clattered, they had just two left, they were still 57 runs short, they were surely going out of the tournament and England were staying in. England knew that.
Only a once-in-a-lifetime innings could deny them. Shafiul Islam played it.Not quite as spectacular as O'Brien's incredible hundred, his 24 from 24 balls was every bit as phenomenal because he hardly knows how to bat. But he stood his ground and blasted.
England could still qualify for the quarter-finals of the World Cup. All they would have to do ("all", after losing to Ireland and Bangladesh in the space of a fortnight!) is beat West Indies in Chennai on Thursday. Then, with two more victories, they would be in the final itself.
They may do it, for this team still possesses strong convictions about its place in the world, but that would not make them true champions of it, or the tournament a proper showcase for one-day skills. That is the International Cricket Council's fault for running such a flawed event in which teams can still progress almost willy nilly, like all the children at a primary school's sports day receiving a prize.
England have not played as well as they expected or ought to have done in this World Cup. Having said which, every match has been a humdinger, keeping at bay the sea of mediocrity which would otherwise have consumed it. And let nobody say they did not see it coming.
There are many reasons for England's characteristic under-performance. Selection is a small one – with the muddle over the opening batsmen to the fore – and injuries a slightly bigger one, with Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad both having departed early last week. But a general weariness is the overwhelming reason.
Twice England have taken their foot off the gas against weaker nationsthey had over a barrel, twice they have lost. They still think they are strong mentally and physically, they might even feel it, but when they assumed they had games won they just looked away for a moment and then it was too late.
Take Anderson. His bowling duringthe Ashes series was a wonderful sight to behold. He was a bowler operating at the peak of his powers. Now he is not.
Ajmal Shahzad, who opened the bowling with him on Friday night and delivered three rip-snorters to take his wickets, said: "We don't see it as a major thing. All he has to do is click for one game and kick on from there. Jimmy doesn't show his emotions and he is a very strong character."
But Jimmy's emotions were there in plain view on Friday. Perhaps they spoke for the side. Some of the batting is clicking, some isn't. Of all the get-out shots at the top on Friday, Ian Bell's innocuous chip was the worst. But Bell has played in every England match this winter, he had three days at home, he is to be married next month. Maybe his mind is wandering. It looked like it.
Pietersen is out of it, jumping ship because of a hernia pain he said could not be managed. Two days later he was photographed in a nightclub, away from the wife and son he professes to miss so much. Silly boy. The team will be bitter at that.
None of this entirely excuses England so far. But Anderson, Ashes hero, deserves to go home soon still a hero. By next Friday he may be.Reuse content