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‘We’re not defending anything’: How undercooked reigning champions set themselves up for

Ahead of the World Cup, in an attempt to downplay the ‘defending champions’ label, England captain Jos Buttler declared: “We’re not defending anything.”

He should have chosen his words more wisely.

Three weeks later, England’s World Cup campaign is on life support. Saturday’s 229-run thrashing against South Africa at Wankhede Stadium was the nation’s heaviest defeat in ODI history, with South Africa’s Heinrich Klaasen blasting a 61-ball hundred to steer the Proteas towards 7-399. It was the highest total England has conceded in ODIs, with the team slipping to bottom spot on the World Cup standings.

“It spiralled out of control,” England coach Matthew Mott later declared.

”We were under siege for a while. Jos was looking around to see who was fit to bowl.”

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Mumbai’s harsh heat and humidity took its toll on the exhausted English players, who sporadically jogged off the field due to illness, niggles, cramps or fatigue. Buttler later confessed he perhaps shouldn’t have elected to bowl first, meaning his teammates fielded in the worst conditions and were exhausted when they emerged to bat.

England has been accused of relying too heavily on data. Mott claimed that “the numbers around chasing were quite strong” at Wankhede Stadium, but of the 23 previous ODIs played at the iconic venue, 12 were won by the chasing team.

Earlier in the tournament, England suffered a historic loss to Afghanistan, a nation coming off 14 consecutive World Cup defeats, with their lone victory being against Scotland. Buttler also chose to bowl first on that occasion, praying for dew that never arrived.

England’s performance in India has drawn comparisons to their disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign, which prompted the team’s white-ball revolution. There’s been no sign of the positive, attacking brand of cricket that’s brought the team such success over the past eight years.

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“England look like a side that has no confidence,” former England captain Michael Atherton told Sky Sports.

“These three losses will hurt them. It happened in the last World Cup, but you felt it was a side that had confidence and they were playing a style and brand of cricket where they could bounce back.

“England need to now win seven games on the bounce to defend the World Cup, but they don’t look like a side that could do that at the moment.”

England’s selection has reeked of indecision and panic. The team balance has changed ahead of each of their four World Cup matches, leaving players confused about their role in the side.

After starting their campaign with four all-rounders in the starting XI — Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes — none of them were selected for last week’s loss to South Africa. To make matters worse, strike bowler Reece Topley, the team’s leading wicket-taker of the tournament, has been ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup after sustaining a broken finger.

“I had them in the top four, but the way they’re playing at the moment, oh man,” former Australian all-rounder Brendon Julian told Fox Cricket.

“I thought they’d come to the tournament red hot, but they look like they’re struggling.

“I’ve always thought their bowling doesn’t have the depth … over in the subcontinent for World Cups like this, you need bowlers that can get out there and take wickets.

“They haven’t been able to adapt to those conditions, which surprises me, because a lot of them play in the IPL.”

Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler of England. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler of England. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Mott recently confessed England was “guessing a little bit” in selection meetings, because between March and September of this year, no member of their World Cup squad played a single List A game, let alone an ODI.

England has only played 42 ODIs since their 2019 World Cup triumph. The player who earned the most ODI caps during that period was Jason Roy, dropped from the World Cup squad on the eve of the tournament.

ODI cricket was put on the back burner after England’s horrific 2021/22 Ashes campaign. Joe Root, Mark Wood, Harry Brook, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Woakes each played ten or fewer ODIs in the two years ahead of the World Cup – hardly ideal preparation for a World Cup.

“It would have been nice to (have) a six-month period where you slowly work things through as a group,” England batter Joe Root said this week.

“But that’s just not how it is at the minute, and that’s not how we get to play our cricket as an England player, so you’ve just got to be adaptable.”

The problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Courtesy of The Hundred overlapping with England’s domestic one-day cup, the next generation of superstars has hardly played any 50-over cricket this year either.

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English pundits have been quick to point the finger after Saturday’s defeat, but the harsh truth is 50-over cricket hasn’t been a priority for the ECB over the last four years.

Since winning the 2019 World Cup, England has focused on rebuilding its Test team and establishing The Hundred. Mark Nicholas, the incoming president of the MCC, recently declared that bilateral ODIs should be abandoned altogether.

England has not officially been eliminated from the tournament. They realistically need to win five consecutive matches to progress through to the knockouts; otherwise, they’ll become first defending champions to be eliminated from the group stage of a World Cup since Australia achieved the unwanted feat in 1993.

Buttler’s men can take comfort from their triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign, where they lost three group stages before lifting the trophy at Lord’s. However, with upcoming fixtures against India and Australia, it would take something miraculous for England to go back-to-back.

“It‘s going to be incredibly difficult,” Buttler said after Saturday’s loss.

“We haven’t left ourselves any margin from this point in. But we’ll keep the belief. We’ll sit down and go again. That’s all you can do in this situation.

“I think it‘s obvious that we’re not performing to our best. It’s my job as captain, along with the rest of the team, to work out how we can get back to playing that brand of cricket.

“We’ll just have to dust ourselves down and stick our chests out and go again.”


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After losing the opening two Tests of the recent Ashes series, England captain Ben Stokes declared it was the “perfect position” for his team. His comments proved accurate, with England playing near-perfect cricket for the final three Tests – but it wasn’t enough to prevent Australia from retaining the coveted urn.

England’s one-day side will need to produce a similar resurgence to revive their World Cup dream, but this honestly feels likes the end of their reign as white-ball supremos.

They will next face Sri Lanka at Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday, with the first ball scheduled for 7.30pm AEDT.

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