Nothing is certain for England now. Their unsteady progress through the World Cup was embellished yesterday by a claim that their captain, Andrew Strauss, intends to retire from one-day cricket after the tournament.
Within four days, England could be out or on the path of glory. Their increasingly precarious state of mind, body and soul suggests that the former is more probable and the rumours about Strauss, mischievous and uncorroborated, can only erode a spirit which is struggling to hold up.
To have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals, England must defeat West Indies on Thursday and even then qualification is not guaranteed. It is possible that they will be left waiting for the outcome of two other matches in group B. What a strange way it all is to determine the supposed world champions.
That England are not quite masters of their own destiny is entirely of their own making but the reasons for it are lost in the mists of fixtures scheduled long ago. In training and outside of matches, England are chipper, apparently thrilled to be here and insistent that the 10th World Cup can still be England's first.
Such was the relaxed mood before the match against Bangladesh last Friday, which would have secured qualification for the knock-out stages, that it was easy to predict an England victory. They had never lost to Bangladesh away.
But fatally, with the match all but won – and for the second time in the competition after they had Ireland at 111 for five and lost – they relaxed. It might have been inadvertent but it happened. And when they realised they needed to find another gear, or deliver a knockout punch, or jump clear at the last – use what sporting analogy you like – there was, for the second time, nothing there.
If the pictures of a gaunt, desperate Jimmy Anderson as the match in Chittagong reached its stirring climax, epitomised England's state, he is not alone. Now, it is clear that England are weary men, worn down by a long winter, which started so magnificently with the Ashes and should have ended there.
"We can't make that an excuse," said Paul Collingwood, who is suffering from a crisis of form that could end his career. "For players, it is like having two Olympics back-to-back, you wait for these things to come round every four years, the Ashes in Australia and then a World Cup, and to have them so close together is not ideal, but it's changing next time around, which will be better."
But for this England it may already be too late, unless somehow they can dig deeper than they ever have before. The excavation required would unearth ancient civilizations. England left home in late October; six of their players have had three nights at home since, which might actually have done more harm than good.
Anderson was allowed home from Australia twice to see his family – his wife gave birth to their second child – but it was still living out of a suitcase. England are not asking for sympathy and are unlikely to receive it but the need to produce peak performance so close together has undoubtedly been affected.
The scheduling of away Ashes series, cheek by jowl with World Cups, always was asking for trouble. The days before the match against West Indies are now bound to be dominated by discussion about Strauss's intentions. At 34, his limited-overs days are obviously limited, but he seems to have no intention of going anywhere just yet.
Considering the man and the circumstances in which he took over the England team, it would be unlikely. A best guess is that, whatever happens in the World Cup, he will stay around in the one-day side for another year or two and then stand down, allowing his successor two or three years to bed in before the next World Cup. If he does intend to go it is difficult to see who he has told and it has not been mentioned in the dressing room.
"Not at all," Colllingwood said. "The one thing we have been talking about is how we win this game coming up. That kind of stuff has not been around."
Collingwood said he would be surprised if Strauss stepped down but, equally, could understand it if he did decide it was time to go. "What we do can be stressful at times but I always say keep things in perspective. There are worse things to be doing in life. From the flipside, the older you get, the more kids you have, the goalposts do slightly change in terms of your outlook but you have to keep things in perspective and what we actually do is fantastic and it's a privilege to be able to do it."
There were other repercussions from the sensational loss to Bangladesh. England stayed in the dressing room until 2am while elated crowds dispersed and Graeme Swann has been fined 10 per cent of his match fee for swearing at umpire Daryl Harper, another sign of England's fraying nerves.Reuse content