England's hopes of retaining the World Twenty20 title are hanging by a thread. Anything can happen in this form of the game but the evidence suggests that there will soon be a loud snap with the horrible fall to earth that entails.
Stuart Broad, a young captain in his first major tournament, was candid in apportioning blame yesterday and recognising what needs to start going right in the second Super Eight match against New Zealand today. "What we have to do is stop losing early wickets," he said. "It has not been the same guy every time but the No 3 has been in in the first couple of overs in every game we've played, which is not good enough. That can really hurt you.
"Last night you watch the best striker in the world in Chris Gayle. He never goes from ball one, does he? He has a little look, assesses the wicket, then explodes."
It has been the essential difference between England and their opponents in their last two matches. In the first, against India, they were three down before the powerplay was out, while they did not take India's second wicket until the 11th over and the third until the 16th. Against West Indies, England were two down after three balls; their opponents did not lose their first wicket until the 11th over.
If England cannot learn from Gayle the master, they are incapable of learning. But in both batting and bowling there is a stark contrast to their grand victory two years ago. Then, their opening pair usually took England at least into the twenties and on the two occasions they lost their first wicket in the opening over, the second put on 94 and 111.
The bowlers are going for more boundaries. Of the runs conceded last time, 41.6 per cent were conceded in boundaries, easily the lowest proportion; this time it is 57.81, close to the highest.
Broad said: "We need to take a bit more responsibility and protect the wickets, especially in that first over, because it's not like we've been getting got out – some of the decisions in that first over have been pretty poor."
So far, Broad has been left to tell it like it is by himself, both before and after matches. The England coach, Andy Flower, has not spoken a word about this tournament in public, either about how England prepared or about how they are progressing. Though he remains approachable and affable, it is rare for Flower either to explain or elucidate these days. Thirteen England matches have gone by since last he did so, a lack of communication that would be unthinkable for his England football and rugby counterparts, Roy Hodgson and Stuart Lancaster. At this rate it cannot be long before Flower follows Greta Garbo and says: "I want to be alone."
There is plenty to talk about. Engand remain in credit for the year, having won 20 and lost 12 of their 36 matches in all forms of the game, but it is clear all is not well. Their Test form has been poor, their one-day form correspondingly good, they have lost a captain and are in dispute with their star player.
Talks with Kevin Pietersen remain unresolved, with no firm idea about how they are progressing, save for slowly. No white smoke has been seen rising from ECB headquarters at Lord's. Flower's silence suggests that he does not want to be drawn into talking about the issue but it is possible to surmise that it must be a distraction even for such a single-minded chap:here he is trying to knock a young, inexperienced team into shape while the batsman who could really offer them something extra is offering his opinions on local television every night. If so, Broad has not noticed.
Asked about Flower's mood, he said: "He's relaxed. He knows we are doing some really good things and how we are playing. I think it's good now we have experienced what this wicket is like and what a par score is and how to build an innings on it. We have not had a batting performance with everyone clicking just yet but when we do we will be a very dangerous proposition. We've got some brilliant players in this line-up and it's important that we back them, to give them confidence."
New Zealand may still be drained after their Super Over defeat to Sri Lanka in the opening Super Eight game. It was a reminder to England that they need to plan for such eventualities. Martin Guptill, the Kiwi opener, tried to perk them up a little. "It is just what happened in a couple of games," he said. "We know that they come out firing. If we can pick up a couple of wickets we can see the benefits of that, but T20 is a funny game and a couple of shots can get a batsman firing."
New Zealand are a much older, well-rehearsed side. It is time for England to make their inexperience count.
England (probable) C Kieswetter (wkt), A D Hales, L J Wright, E J G Morgan, J M Bairstow, J C Buttler, S R Patel, S C J Broad (capt), G P Swann, S T Finn, J W Dernbach.
New Zealand (probable) L R P L Taylor (capt), R J Nicol, M J Guptill, B B McCullum (wkt), K S Williamson, J D P Oram, N L McCullum, J E C Franklin, D L Vettori, T G Southee, K D Mills.
S Taufel (Aus) and A Rauf (Pak)
Warm, dry and overcast for most of the afternoon, intermittent sun.
Maximum temperature: 30C.
Sky Sports 3, 10.30am-2.30pm
England's qualification route
England can still qualify for the World Twenty20 semi-finals if they lose to New Zealand today.
For this to happen, West Indies would need to win both their remaining matches, against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
This would leave West Indies on six points and the other three with two points each, to be separated by net run rate.
If England win today but then lost to Sri Lanka, they would need Sri Lanka to have won all their matches and for New Zealand to defeat West Indies.
Sri Lanka would then be on six, with the others on two each, to be divided by NRR.
Were England to win both remaining matches they would fail to qualify only if New Zealand lost to West Indies and West Indies lost Sri Lanka. Three teams – Sri Lanka, West Indies and England – would then be level on four points and be split by NRR.
England in 2012
P W L D/NR
Tests 11 3 6 2
ODI 15 12 2 1
Twenty20 10 5 4 1
Total 36 20 10 4