As the camera panned in on Eoin Morgan during the national anthem the magnitude of the moment was evident. His eyes were closed. Perhaps he was thinking: “Please, please, I and we need a really, really good day.”
What he and they got was a really, really bad day. A couple of hours later, the game was effectively over. England had been exposed by a quite brilliant spell from Tim Southee with seven wickets, the best by a New Zealander in a one-day international. Credit, then, to an extremely capable side.
The gap between the two sides was huge.
It is the first time I’ve said or written this about an England team, but it was embarrassing to watch and inevitably supporters want answers.
They clearly showed an inability to cope with the swinging ball in this game but problems with this team run deeper than that.
Let’s not forget: this group of players had six months to prepare for this World Cup. There was no Test match cricket to interrupt planning, and throughout that period the team chopped and changed, trying to find answers, winning some and losing some. Eleven players did not function together sufficiently, which is the obvious way to breed confidence and self-belief.
Sure, two good performances in the Tri-series will have helped but those qualities are paper thin within this unit. In essence, they came here full of uncertainty.
That became so evident on the eve of the first game. I cannot be convinced by what I hear from the England management that this was England’s best team. I’m afraid it was panic born out of uncertainty, which had been prevalent throughout the preparation period.
To bring in Gary Ballance at three and drop James Taylor to six and not open the bowling with Chris Woakes when he’d opened the bowling for the last few months amounted to folly, the full impact impossible to gauge.
To remove Ravi Bopara from the team so late was unwise as it made England a very one-paced attack. I hear that he has not bowled well enough. Perhaps with more overs he might have done.
When you look down the team sheets of New Zealand and England, you see that there is not such a discernible difference in the quality of the personnel. Yet, watching the two teams play, there was a chasm between them. England are nowhere near getting the best from their team and appear to have wasted months of ideal preparation.
They practise as hard as any team, they prepare as well as any team, they have an extensive back-room staff dedicated to the team, all good guys who work incredibly hard. However, it’s the content of all the discussions that really matters.
A good example of this was evident when they bowled to Brendon McCullum. At no point during his brutal innings did the bowlers look to change their pace subtly, not quick ball then slow ball but constantly varying pace to unsettle him. The wicketkeeper surely had to come up to the stumps to keep him in the crease, albeit to James Anderson and Stuart Broad. No one is saying this would definitely have worked but it was certainly worth trying.
It was a magnificent spell of controlled swing bowling from Southee. Batting against it is not easy. The way England approached it again showed what I would call a lack of confidence. Their approach was fine, to try to get through the early overs without losing wickets. All the batsmen were crease-bound, thus allowing the ball to swing and letting Southee hit a full length. How different that approach was from McCullum’s onslaught.
Another approach is either to bat out of your crease or take a couple of controlled steps towards the bowler. England must start expanding their thoughts and approach quickly. It was apparent from the start. They batted when last Saturday they bowled, giving the impression of making up policy on the hoof.
This awful performance won’t just affect England, it will give renewed hope to their next opponents Scotland. They, let’s face it, fared better against New Zealand.
Scotland will have targeted this game before the tournament started and will now feel England are vulnerable. They are not wrong.
The dressing room will have been devastated, quiet and humiliated, with the same mood on the bus trip back to the hotel and the flight to Christchurch today. Players will deal with this in different ways but all will be hurting. Some will stay in their rooms, others will try to put it behind them quickly.
Believe me, that mauling will take some time to get over. Time to bring back both James Tredwell and Bopara.
England didn’t have to beat New Zealand in terms of qualification for the quarter-finals – they will have to win the next one, though. A team with its confidence shattered will have to find an inner strength that is nowhere evident.