On the grounds that this is a long tournament in which the key trick is to peak towards the end, England are still in with a superb chance of winning the World Cup for the first time. They have been careful to avoid falling foolishly into the trap of peaking too soon, something that the hosts, Australia and New Zealand, and the defending champions, India, may yet come to rue.
If, on the other hand, this softly, softly, catchee monkey strategy is to work, there are areas of England’s play to address. It may be too much to deal with them all by Friday, when they play New Zealand in the Westpac Stadium, but the crushing 111-run defeat by Australia in the opening match demands action.
England’s initial response was to have the day off yesterday. Maybe they needed it after the unceremonious mauling they received in Melbourne on Saturday, maybe they could dwell on their frailties.
The captain’s form
There is a perverse irony in the poor form of England’s captain, Eoin Morgan. He was given the job only because of the poor form of his predecessor, Alastair Cook.
At the time Morgan’s run of form was worse than Cook’s, though both were awful. It was officially announced when the change was made that the captaincy would inspire Morgan, and so it did – for one innings so far. First time out, he made a serene 121 against Australia, since when his scores have been 0, 2, 0, 0, 0.
Cricket World Cup 2015: 10 young players to watch
Cricket World Cup 2015: 10 young players to watch
1/10 Usman Ghani, 18, Afghanistan
At just over 18 years old, Ghani is the youngest player at the tournament, but the attacking opener already has an ODI century to his name. If the Aghans are to spring a shock, much will depend on him getting them off to a good start.
2/10 Pat Cummins, 21, Australia
With his wonderful action and searing pace, Cummins burst onto the scene when he took seven wickets as an 18-year-old Test debutant against South Africa. Terrible injuries have prevented him from adding to his solitary Test cap, but now the stage is set for Cummins to re-establish himself as one of cricket's hottest talents.
3/10 Mominul Haque, 23, Bangladesh
A compact left-handed batsman, Haque will occupy the No.3 spot in the Bangladeshi batting order. He has already made 24 ODI appearances, but thus far has enjoyed more success in the longer format - in 12 Test appearances he has plundered almost 1200 runs at 63.05, with four centuries.
4/10 Jos Buttler, 24, England
One of the genuine box-office talents in the England squad, Buttler's 121 against Sri Lanka last summer was the most eye-catching innings of the season. His keeping needs work, but as a mid- to lower-order batsman he has the talent to change the course of a game in the blink of the eye.
5/10 Akshar Patel, 21, India
One of the few positives of India's disastrous recent Tri-Series with Australia and England was the consistency of Patel, who was miserly and probing with his tight left-arm spin. He enjoyed a superb 2014 IPL season with 16 wickets and an economy rate of just 6.22 for Kings XI Punjab.
6/10 George Dockrell, 22, Ireland
Despite having been a mainstay of the Ireland side since his debut in 2010, and with four county seasons at Somerset under his belt, Dockrell is still only 22. The canny spinner was named the ICC Associate Player of the Year in 2012, and he has been touted to follow Eoin Morgan into England colours.
7/10 Kane Williamson, 24, New Zealand
Williamson is the most consistent performer in a dangerous New Zealand batting line-up, his devastating recent form in all forms of cricket cementing his reputation as one of the most exciting, talented batsmen in world cricket. Having recently had his action cleared, he can now resume bowling his useful off-spin.
8/10 Ahmed Shehzad, 23, Pakistan
Despite his tender age, Shehzad boasts a wealth of experience, with over 50 ODI appearances and six centuries to his name. More of a classical, patient opener than a David Warner-esque pinch-hitter, he will lay the foundation from which Pakistan's big-hitting middle order can tee off.
9/10 Quinton de Kock, 22, South Africa
Since making his debut just after his 20th birthday, De Kock has been an aggressive, punchy performer at the top of the South African order, plundering six hundreds in just 36 matches. A tidy gloveman, who by taking over keeping duties has allowed AB De Villiers to focus on his batting, to devastating effect.
10/10 Tendai Chatara, 23, Zimbabwe
An athletic opening bowler with a curious, idiosyncratic action, Chatara takes the ball away from the right-hander at decent pace and is Zimbabwe's key strike bowler. His maiden Test five-wicket haul set up a famous victory over Pakistan in 2013.
Morgan has said (as he said in his previous poor trot) that as he keeps getting out in different ways, rather than, say, continually edging to slip, there is not much to be worry about. Another way of looking at it is that there is much more to worry about. A captain out of form will drag England down.
Morgan is only part of the middle-order malaise. England do not appear to know what is their best way of accruing runs as an innings develops.
It persuaded them to make a late change for the start of the tournament by dropping Ravi Bopara, moving James Taylor down the order, although he had done nothing wrong, and reintroducing Gary Ballance at No 3.
They must now quickly work out what they expect of each other and how those expectations can be realised. Taylor batted excellently on Saturday but England were always losing.
It is the old stick-or-twist conundrum. England will or should have noticed that when Australia were 70 for 3 on Saturday they consolidated, accelerated and then sprinted for the line. Back-loading an innings still has its merits.
If a little boy says to his parents that he wants to be a death bowler when he grows up, he should be dissuaded at all costs. There is no future in it and it can lead only to enduring mental torment. The reduction to four fielders outside the circle, allied to greater intent by the batsmen, has made it a horrible prospect.
England, however, are suffering more than most. They had suggested privately in the week leading up to their first match that the yorker was the ball to bowl. The yorker has lost much of its potency recently but they virtually ignored it in favour of the short ball, which Australia duly pummelled.
The bowlers (whoever they are, and that is part of the difficulty) have to think on their feet much more adeptly. They cannot stick rigidly to preordained plans. But this facet of the game is of immense concern.
Taking wickets in the middle
Like Morgan’s form and the middle-order batting, the death bowling and failure to take wickets in the middle overs are inextricably linked. The failure to do one makes the other much more difficult.
England’s lack of variety in their bowling will probably ensure they continue to suffer. There is a case for bringing back James Tredwell. He is a smart one-day bowler who induces error and has an extremely healthy rate of wicket-taking – one every 34 balls.
The similarity between the members of England’s attack, if not their lack of versatility, makes it easier for the opposition batsmen. Moeen Ali’s off-spin is a work in progress. They have to build pressure and make something happen.
There is no question that England’s fielding has improved. But it is still littered with error and imprecision. Apart from the two clear-cut chances put down on Saturday, there was another that might have stuck and a missed run-out.
They are well covered at slip, but there is a shortage of athleticism in some areas elsewhere. Only Chris Jordan, who is not in the side, looks capable of supplying the truly spectacular.Reuse content