Sometime in the future, if England practise hard and learn accordingly, they might get the hang of this new-fangled cricket. But not yet, not now. For all the confident statements and bullish outlook before the inaugural World Twenty20, their challenge has been feeble.
So far, that is. Somehow, despite a characteristic defeat to New Zealand yesterday, their third in a row, they still have slender prospects of reaching the semi-finals. Their fate is in others' hands and demands a particular sequence of results but it is still an undeserved window of opportunity. Doubtless England will find a way of slamming even that in their face. So far their performances in a form of the game devised in their own country have merited a mark of around five out of Twenty20.
In losing the second Super8 match they spurned several chances to win, which was nothing to do with their misfortune in having to reshape their side because of the absence of Matt Prior, whose broken right thumb has ended his tour.
Nor was it connected to the news that their captain Paul Collingwood had foolhardily visited a lap-dancing bar late at night in Cape Town on the night of England's defeat to Australia. When the key moments arrived they did not stand and engage in hand-to-hand combat but rolled over to have their tummies tickled, as apparently happens in certain lap-dancing bars.
In reducing New Zealand to 31 for 4 England looked to be in control early. But the Kiwis backed their big hitting prowess and England wilted. Still, the total of 164 for 9 was hardly out of sight and when England's third different opening pair of the competition, Darren Maddy and Vikram Solanki, constructed a sensible platform, the game was there to be won again.
The loss of both openers was hardly a major concern but the fall of three wickets in 10 balls in the middle of the innings was more than an irritation, since it was the big three of Kevin Pietersen, Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff. Again they re-established themselves and a close finish seemed probable when they were left needing 20 from two overs. The fall of three wickets in the first of those quashed those hopes. When one mistake in such rapid-fire cricket can cost dearly it was beyond carelessness that England committed so many. Perhaps it spoke of the lack of quality.
It had seemed a wonderful toss to win with some early morning moisture in the pitch and England took full advantage with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Flintoff all on the button. They were ably assisted by the stand-in wicketkeeper Solanki who performed admirably. Many specialist 'keepers have done much worse for England in recent times.
It became a bit sticky in the 10th over when Scott Styris propelled Dimitri Mascarenhas for three consecutive leg-side sixes. Things rather got away from England after that and Collingwood was so exercised by events that he miscalculated the number of overs bowled which meant Flintoff, his best bowler, did not deliver his full allocation. Collingwood owned up later and said: "It's another thing in my captaincy I've got to learn." But it was a dozy error.
Maddy and Solanki batted at an appropriate pace – they were neither rushed nor becalmed. Was the policy of picking Twenty20 specialists working at last? Solanki holed out, Maddy was run out backing up. Collingwood was caught athletically at mid-wicket but Pietersen exuded authority. All was well. But with Pietersen anything is possible and he unwisely unsheathed his reverse sweep against Daniel Vettori. This is a shot that works for Pietersen but he also knew that Vettori is a craftsmen whose drift is not easy to master.
Poor Flintoff, who again looked in trouble with his ankle, was stranded in a yes-no interlude with Owais Shah. Wright and Shah pulled it round but could not complete the job.
Last night Collingwood was fined for what the management described as "being led into an inappropriate place at an inappropriate time." He was levied with what was described as a "suitable fine". Presumably they meant "appropriate". "It was obviously unacceptable," he said. "Hopefully it won't happen again." He was talking about his behaviour but it may as well have been his side's performances here.Reuse content