Cricket World Cup 2015: England's limitations are laid bare in defeat to Australia

Finch launches Australia’s World Cup quest with a blistering century against opponents beset by nerves and muddled thinking

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The Independent Online

The difference between the sides here was as vast as the outback. There have been more formidable Australian teams, there have been less accomplished English ones but rarely can the gulf between them in one-day cricket have been so brutally exposed.

One of the combatants is here to win the World Cup, the other has not a prayer of doing so, and in the words of a captain who is already beleaguered their first objective is to reach the quarter-finals. It is probably also the limit of England’s aspirations, while Australia have no limits.

The size of the defeat by 111 runs was a reasonable reflection of the gap in standards and class. Australia were superior at batting, bowling and fielding. They probably had no need to sledge but they would undoubtedly have been smarter at that as well.

Eoin Morgan, England’s new captain, who is following the old one in being hopelessly out of form, said he was disappointed because England had made mistakes they had not made in recent weeks. But he might also have considered that was because this was when it mattered.

Nerves beset both teams – and if England think they had reasons for apprehension, think of Australia being favourites and playing at home – but one of them had the innate ability and determination to overcome them. From the first over, England committed costly errors.

Aaron Finch scored 135 from 128 balls in Australia’s total of 342 for nine and Mitchell Marsh, the least sung of the three Mitchells in Australia’s team after Johnson and Starc, took  5 for 33, with his aggressive medium pace. For England, James Taylor made an unbeaten 98, denied a chance of a hundred at the end in a welter of confusion about the laws of the game, the regulations of the competition and how they should be applied.

By then the game had long since been won and lost, and England’s prospects in the tournament had been placed firmly into dour perspective. Australia’s future looked positively thrilling. But Taylor deserved his hundred for his defiance alone after being belatedly demoted in the batting order to No 6.

England’s choice of team betrayed muddled thinking. It also left them perilously balanced and if they pick the same eleven in their next match against New Zealand on Friday they will probably lose that as well.

Gary Ballance was brought into the No 3 spot that Taylor had occupied in the recent past with some success and Taylor was moved down the order to replace Ravi Bopara, no stranger to being dropped. Not only did this disrupt Taylor but it meant that England had no viable sixth bowling option, which they were always likely to need on a flat pitch.

True, Ballance’s broken finger which put him out for a month left them with no room for experimentation in the triangular series but these belated manoeuvrings, selecting a team that had never played together before at the start of a World Cup, bespoke a squad ill at ease with itself and where it is heading.

There were moments when it might have been different. In the first over of the game, Finch clipped his first ball on the leg side. Chris Woakes at square-leg leapt fractionally late and the catch went through his hands. Finch was off and running.

Later, on other half chances went begging. Even then, England pulled it back with three quick wickets but Finch found a determined partner in George Bailey and they saw off some solid bowling, which was changed regularly by Morgan in search of another breakthrough. When it came it was too late. The dash for the line was uncontainable as Glenn Maxwell played pretty much as he pleased and Steve Finn’s hat-trick with the last three  balls, while giving him five wickets, was little more than a curiosity.

Only in their wildest dreams were England likely to make their target. The pursuit unravelled fairly quickly. Moeen Ali was caught after being beaten for pace and then Marsh intervened. Australia caught splendidly in this period and here was another difference between the sides, a marked one, an embarrassing one. Morgan was out for a six-ball duck, his third in his last four innings.

Taylor bristled, playing belligerently all round the wicket. But coming in at 66 for 4 in the 14th over, the chances of an England win had vanished. It seemed that he might be consoled with his maiden one-day hundred as he and Jimmy Anderson hung around for the last wicket.

But on 98, Taylor was given out lbw to Josh Hazlewood. The batsman immediately asked for the decision to be reviewed but not until after an attempt to scramble a leg bye had led to Anderson being run out. The review of Taylor’s lbw decision showed that the ball would have missed the stumps and the decision was reversed but then replays of the run showed Anderson to be short of his ground.

He was given out, wrongly as it later transpired. The ICC, checking its own regulations, discovered as much. The ball was dead. Bad luck indeed for Taylor, though an England win then was as likely as their lifting the World Cup six weeks from now.