To have any chance of progressing in the World Cup, England must locate their A game. Since, at crucial points, they have been operating several places lower in the alphabet, it is difficult to be confident about their prospects, either against West Indies today in their final group match or later in the tournament.
There is no wriggle room left for England now. If they are to make the quarter finals, they simply have to win today. Lose and they will join so many of their predecessors in having shown up at the World Cup only to make the earliest possible exit. It was not what they intended when they left for India three weeks ago.
England are in this ridiculous position because they have lost two matches, against Ireland and Bangladesh, that they should have won. Twice they made the mistake of thinking the sight of the finishing line meant they had crossed it and twice lesser teams took advantage.
In a last-ditch attempt to clinch their place, it seems England are prepared to make bold selection decisions. The place of the Ashes hero Jimmy Anderson, in particular, is in peril and fellow fast bowler Chris Tremlett may play his first match of the tournament.
Anderson has had a lean time of it, taking only four wickets in England's five matches at the astronomical cost of 70.5 runs each. He has misplaced his mojo, probably somewhere in Australia, and last Friday against Bangladesh, as Shafiul Islam cut loose, Anderson suddenly looked lost and old.
England found they could survive well enough without him in the World Twenty20 last year, when Ryan Sidebottom's left-arm swing was preferred. But it would be the biggest of deals to ditch him now, given both his experience and his overall record. Tremlett has played only 13 one-day internationals and England's most experienced seamer would be Tim Bresnan.
"I think you are always trying to pick the right side to win the game," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss, neither confirming nor denying Anderson's omission. "Jimmy has had a tough time in some of the games in the World Cup so far but we all know what a qualify performer he is.
"He has done it for us over and over again during the course of the winter and previously. So his name is very much in the mix for selection. We're thinking about what the right XI is for this game. And all the bowlers will have question marks as to what is the right attack and right balance to the attack."
West Indies have had a smooth passage since they went down limply to South Africa in their opening match. They have yet to be severely tested again and their most emphatic display was against Bangladesh, whom they bowled out for 58. In Chris Gayle, who has recovered from a stomach injury, and Kieron Pollard, the West Indies possess two of the largest, cleanest hitters around. Slow pitch or not, both, on their day, are capable of taking a game away in a few overs. They have been brave, too, opening with the left-arm spin of Sulieman Benn throughout the competition.
England's primary concern will be the left-handers in the West Indies' top order, with four in the first five. It was noticeable that the bowlers struggled against Bangladesh's left-handers last week, with Ajmal Shahzad regularly straying off line. Tremlett was effective against allcomers during his triumphant return to the side in the Test series in Australia.
Anderson has in his favour not only past services rendered, but also the fact that his one effective match of the competition so far was at Chennai against South Africa. On a slow, turning pitch he was deadly accurate and returned 2 for 16 in six overs. It may yet save him.
Considering the manner in which his side have underperformed in the past three weeks, Strauss was on chipper form yesterday. Recovered from a dose of the Chennai chapatis, which has laid low several members of the squad, including most recently Graeme Swann and Ajmal Shahzad, he was remarkably relaxed about England's chances.
"It is a one-off and, hopefully, the start of a series of one-offs," he said. "I think the juices are flowing and there are a few butterflies in the stomach, which is a great sign for us. We have done well in big matches over the last couple of years."
Strauss described as baseless the report at the weekend which said he would retire from one-day cricket at the end of the tournament. It was the sort of ill-sourced mischief-making that might have had an effect on a tired dressing room in the days leading up to a key match.
If England manage to win today, they must await their destiny. It would still be possible for them to be eliminated if Bangladesh beat South Africa on Saturday and West Indies beat India on Sunday. That would be the cruellest blow of all and Strauss seemed convinced that he can still lead England to glory.
"I think it's very tough to call a winner in this World Cup," he said. "It will depend a lot on which teams play which and on what type of wickets, if that makes sense. From our point of view the key is to stay in the tournament."
Strauss emphasised that tiredness was not an issue for the team, although they had been on the road for a long time. "We know what the prize is and we are determined to make the most of our opportunity to take that prize. I know a lot of people are talking about it. It won't be an issue for us until right at the end of the tournament."
But Darren Sammy, the captain of West Indies saw it differently. "It's a good time to play England," he said. "Obviously they've been on the road for a long time. Apparently, they've been home for four days in five months. That's something that will be on their minds. In order for them to stay, they've got to win. Or maybe some of them will want to go home to their families. You never know."
But by tonight we shall know and England may have a while longer yet to wait to see home and hearth again.
If England win They require South Africa to draw with or beat Bangladesh on Saturday or India to beat West Indies on Sunday if they are to qualify.
If England tie/there is no result They need South Africa to beat Bangladesh.
If England lose They are out.
England (possible): A J Strauss (capt), M J Prior (wk), I J L Trott, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, M H Yardy, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, A Shahzad, C T Tremlett.
West Indies (possible): D S Smith, C H Gayle, D M Bravo, R R Sarwan, S C Chanderpaul, K A Pollard, D J G Sammy (capt), D C Thomas (wk), N O Miller, S J Benn, K A J Roach.
Pitch report The surface is unlikely to be any faster than for England's previous match against South Africa. A score of 220 will put a team firmly in the game.
Umpires B Oxenford & S Davis (both Aus).
TV 8.30am-5.30pm, Sky Sports 1.
Weather Warm, with clear skies.Reuse content