Many would consider it premature to write off England's chances of reaching the finals of the Commonwealth Bank one-day series after only two of its eight qualifying games, but there is a feeling that the match with New Zealand tonight will go a long way towards deciding their fate.
Neither England nor New Zealand have looked capable of defeating Australia in the opening two matches of the triangular series but, after a 5-0 Ashes whitewash and defeats in consecutive limited-overs games, it is Michael Vaughan's side who are in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory.
A win would allow England to convince themselves that their dire position has more to do with the brilliance of Ricky Ponting's side than their own inadequacies. Losing to the Kiwis would compound England's misery. It would leave Vaughan's side needing to defeat New Zealand in their three remaining games to be certain of reaching the finals, a task it is hard to see them achieving.
Despite the comprehensive nature of England's defeat to Australia in Melbourne and the loss of Kevin Pietersen there were reasons to be encouraged. For once England batted to a plan that suited the styles of their players, and the spinners showed that they could play a significant role in the tournament.
Vaughan would love to have a big hitter at the top of the order to get his side off to a flying start. But he does not, and England have to rely on scoring quickly at the end of an innings to make up for a careful start. Andrew Flintoff is key to this and England will want their powerhouse to be at the crease for the final 15 overs of an innings.
The New Zealand team contain very few star performers but they are a well-led and organised side. Stephen Fleming is one of the most highly regarded captains in world cricket while the coach, John Bracewell, highlighted his skills by turning Gloucestershire into domestic one-day kings in England.
The Black Caps were well beaten by Australia here yesterday but there was a purpose to their fielding and bowling that has been lacking in England's at times. New Zealand confronted Australia and took them on with aggressive, disciplined cricket. But, alas, Ponting's side were ultimately too good.
The Kiwis will have benefited from playing on the same pitch that is to be used tonight. The slow, low nature of the Bellerive Oval should encourage both teams to play two spinners and the medium pace of England's Jon Lewis and Paul Collingwood, along with New Zealand's Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan, could be hard to get away.
Shane Bond is a class act and the fast bowler took the 23rd hat-trick in one-day international cricket when he dismissed Cameron White, Andrew Symonds and Nathan Bracken with consecutive deliveries. But by then the damage had been done and Australia, thanks largely to an explosive 90-run partnership between Symonds and White, had already passed a match-winning score.
An excellent innings of 84 by Ross Taylor gave New Zealand supporters the fleeting hope of completing an unexpected victory but when the right-hander was caught behind off the ever-improving Mitchell Johnson the Black Caps collapsed horribly. Seven wickets fell in 45 balls for the addition of just 23 runs as Australia romped to a 105-run victory. It was a sight that would have put a smile even on the face of Duncan Fletcher, the England coach.
"England are a dangerous side because they are wounded," Fleming said prior to New Zealand's defeat. "They will be putting so much into this game and it is our chance to keep them down. We will be approaching the game with vigour. Australia have got the wood on them and we are fresh at this point so the England game is massively important in terms of momentum.
"I can see how they're down when they play Australia but it is going to be completely different when they play us and that is what we're geared up for. England will be chaffing at the bit to get a win against us so we'll try and deny them those opportunities."
England are not the first side to be thumped by Australia and they will not be the last. And Fleming can relate to what his opponents tonight are going through.
"I know exactly how Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff are feeling at the moment," he said. "We have had a five-game series against them and lost 5-0 and that was pretty demoralising. It is hard to get anything going and you're forever searching for new ideas and ways to combat a very good Australian side.
"We got out of it by playing another team. You get away from Australia and take a deep breath and then try to put what you've learnt into practice because it's relentless against them. I think England will look at us and see us as the key opposition to get some confidence back against and that is our challenge."
Pietersen's rib injury will give Ed Joyce the chance to push for a World Cup place. Joyce has opened in each of his international matches to date but he is now expected to bat in the middle order. It is a position to which he is far better suited.
England (from): M P Vaughan (captain), A J Strauss, I R Bell, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, J W M Dalrymple, P A Nixon (wicketkeeper), J M Anderson, J Lewis, M S Panesar, C T Tremlett, E C Joyce, S I Mahmood, L E Plunkett, C M W Read (wicketkeeper).
New Zealand (from): S P Fleming (captain), A R Adams, N J Astle, S E Bond, J E C Franklin, P G Fulton, M R Gillespie, B B McCullum (wicketkeeper), C D McMillan, H J H Marshall, M J Mason, J S Patel, R L Taylor, D L Vettori.Reuse content