Cricket World Cup 2015: Defensive England must face up to a poor start – not be in angry denial

Victory over Scotland was preceded by two defeats

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There is a temptation to skewer England. In this World Cup, as in five others before it, they have played moderately. Two overwhelming defeats have been followed by a win which was entirely expected. Put it this way, had they lost against Scotland there would, in sporting terms, have been hell to pay.

Neither the defeats nor the solitary victory have gone according to plan. All the results could have been expected. Being beaten by Australia and New Zealand, two of the crack teams in one-day cricket who have been prepared brilliantly, is far from a disgrace.

But the margins of 111 runs (which conveniently hides the fact that England were bowled out in 41.5 overs) and eight wickets (which conveniently hides the fact that England lasted 33.2 overs and New Zealand knocked their target off in 12.2) were unexpectedly shattering.

They reacted to these reverses, as they had to, without fuss or excuse. The usual phrase from those offering their account of events, counted a dozen or more times, was that they had to take it on the chin. Such boxing parlance, of course, invites the suggestion that England have a glass jaw.

On the floor as they were, however, England defeated Scotland comfortably on Monday. They were understandably pleased with themselves. Routine, predictable though it was, they had started their World Cup.

It is to be hoped they do not suppose it had something it lacked, like a killer punch. After the match, your correspondent was asked to give his observations to Sky Sports for a segment on their highlights programme at home. Happy to oblige.

After I suggested jocularly that the money should now all go on England for the cup because the odds were generous, the conversation veered off animatedly into other areas. England did not come out well or badly.

In answer to the final question about what the headline might be in the following day’s paper (and bear in mind that headlines, thankfully, are the responsibility of others) I suggested: “Better – hopefully more to come.” Such snappiness explains much.

At which point the interview ended, but not before the walk back to the press box was interrupted by a curt intervention from the England team’s media relations manager, who had been watching and listening. “Outrageous,” she said. There was a brief exchange of pleasant unpleasantries and life went on.

She was perhaps only doing her job but, as England must and do expect criticism for their losses, they should also understand that predictable victories do not demand bunting to be hung out in the streets.

The constant scrutiny may be affecting some of this team but heaven knows what is expected by a young player in the 21st century who has wanted all his life to be a professional cricketer. For two or three years until 2012 we became used to England winning, but there is a definite sense that patience is wearing thin. This is patent from thousands of miles away.

No team can or should win all the time but England have lost more than they ought to have done leading up to this World Cup, the first for which a one-day pathway was cleared. It has not been good enough, it has been far from good enough. The batting has been diffident, the bowling wary. England look off the pace. For all the tarting up that was done with the schedules, it still looks as though they came to the party late.

The statistical truth, of course, is that they can still win this World Cup. If they learn to believe in such a prospect themselves, which blatantly they have not, it may yet come to pass.

What should happen now is that Eoin Morgan, the captain, should ensure that this is his team. Peter Moores, a coach who has guided two county teams to Championship titles (one who had never won it before, one who  had not for 75 years), obviously has qualities that inspire and teach.

But it would seem that something has been lost in translation, usually at the moment when the speech has to be given. Paul Farbrace, his deputy, is much liked. But it is not their team.

Morgan is in terrible form, he is making terrible decisions about what shots he should play, he is falling into traps, he was handed the leadership of this team as a hopeless afterthought. In his musings so far about what he should and should not do, he has been elusive, evasive, teasing.

Out in the middle he has occasionally tried stuff but he was a bowler short against Australia and 200 runs short against New Zealand. Sometimes the purpose of what Morgan is doing is unclear. Maybe he knows. He is a relaxed guy, seemingly sure of himself. It is up to him now. In a way, England’s tournament begins against Sri Lanka on Sunday. If Morgan isn’t good enough, England are finished.

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