England are out of the World Twenty20 at the first hurdle. They were pulverised in the Ashes. The winter has been a prolonged nightmare of failure, in which even the tantalising glimpses of relief from the siege have been swiftly expunged by yet another hammering.
They are in a mess. It was a blessing that Ashley Giles, the man who would be coach, recognised as much yesterday. “We are all disappointed with where the team is,” he said. “We don’t need to talk about low ebbs but losing games of cricket is not fun, losing series and getting knocked out of World Cups is not fun. We are here to build and we try to do that every day.
“Going forward, we have to work incredibly hard and be better in a lot of departments than we are. We have to better our position across the board: skills, fielding, fitness – all areas we need to pinpoint.
“Not so much 1 per centers but 10 per centers where we need to improve to make sure that we haven’t got a chance of winning, but we win games of cricket. That will take time. If you guys are looking for a quick fix or for some magician to come in with a wand then that ain’t going to happen.”
When coaches start talking about the 10 per centers instead of the 1 per centers then it dawns how much their team is truly off the pace. Giles is the leading candidate for the role of head coach to succeed Andy Flower but he is inevitably tarred by the brush of his association with the old regime, in which he has latterly been the limited-overs coach.
If he genuinely wants the job – and he does – he must deliver the same sentiments to his interviewers at the England and Wales Cricket Board next month. He must be neither equivocal nor evasive; he might have to take some of the blame for what has happened in the past few months. And he must tell them what the heck he is going to do about it all.
Giles, like England, has not had a grand time of it these past few weeks. A one-day series win in the West Indies when nobody was looking, except to see what the world was like without Kevin Pietersen, and one win in this competition do not amount to much. But since the first week in January, when Flower walked off into the Sydney sunset, he has been in charge.
In that time he has constructed a dressing room which is at ease with itself, although that has not yet translated into a winning formula. There is about him both a passion and a vision which other candidates will find hard to beat. Paul Downton, the new managing director, has gone a long way to find the right man and he would need to find a better one than Giles.
He tried hard not to be persuaded into giving a job interview by the reporters asking the questions, though he could not deflect them all.
On the face of it he was there to talk about England’s defeat to South Africa, which ended their interest in the World Twenty20, and their final dead group match against Netherlands today, which offers scope only for more humiliation.
The World T20 in Bangladesh was not high on the agenda this winter but the generally weak performances of the team have caught everybody on the hop. Back in October no one was predicting a score of 17-5 in favour of opponents in internationals. Giles was at a loss to explain why nobody noticed the team was declining.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re in it, you go with it. And when it starts going, momentum, it runs away from you in a hurry. We’ve talked about a lot of bad stuff. Now we need to start looking forward this summer, whoever’s in charge, building these guys, working hard at it. It is going to need a bit of carrot and stick.”
England lost by three runs to South Africa to end their hopes of progress to the semi-finals, but it was not, in truth, as close as that. They fielded poorly and disjointedly, though they were in it until the last three overs of South Africa’s innings, which yielded 55 runs.
The over that mattered was the 18th, which was delivered by Jade Dernbach and gave away 26 runs. It lasted nine balls. True, A B de Villiers was irrepressible but poor Dernbach was never in with a hope. Of those who have bowled 50 overs in T20s he has the highest economy rate and it may be time to give him a break.
But Dernbach was far from the sole reason for England’s defeat. They have lost ground in Twenty20; they do not play enough of it, they lack nous with bat and ball, and they were dreadful in the field. Alex Hales’ memorable century against Sri Lanka last Thursday just about redeemed them.
Giles is making no promises about the new era. “It’s been said a few times – and you don’t use it as a crutch – but there will be disappointments still along the journey,” he said. “There’s going to be blips. You guys [the press], we need you to be patient with us, and we need to manage some expectations. That’s difficult sometimes with supporters and stakeholders, but we are certainly looking to go north now.”
Boy, do they need to defeat the Netherlands today; and, boy, will the Netherlands be up for it.