For a country that doesn’t like 50-over cricket, England are doing a great job of keeping the format alive.
Their 18-run win over West Indies with 32 balls to go sounds tame by their standards in this tournament but it was anything but. At 121 for 2 England were winning. They were losing at 151 for 6. In the end a score of 243 was a decent total to defend, no more.
When the injured Chris Gayle was getting over his inability to run by smashing Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan out of the attack, England were once again losing. At 150 for 6 there was, like against Bangladesh and Ireland – only one winner: England. Then with Andre Russell compiling a nerve-defying, skilfull 49, England were out of the World Cup at 222 for 6. Next came four wickets in 20 mad-cap balls, and England were alive in the World Cup.
Andrew Strauss was asked in the post-match ceremony if it was fun playing for England at the World Cup. “No, not really,” he deadpanned. You can see where he’s coming from – it must be incredibly infuriating to captain a talented side that keeps getting waylaid by inconsistency. Strauss is in a minority though. For the rest of the watching world, England have single-handedly kept the interminable group stages interesting. It’s like sticking Johnny Depp into Hollyoaks, or Brian from Family Guy into Crufts.
England deserved this victory – they defended a small total outstandingly, as they did on the same ground against South Africa. They managed it with their two pace bowlers, Bresnan and Tremlett, finding it impossible to find any consistency. Both bowled very poorly. Jimmy Anderson, discarded for this game, needs re-installing (assuming Bangladesh and West Indies don’t beat South Africa and India respectively and put England out). He’s bowled badly so far, but proved during the Ashes – and against South Africa in this tournament – that he now performs better in the big matches.
Due to the ineptitude of Bresnan and Tremlett, the wickets column of the West Indies scorecard is peculiar reading – six wickets between them for James Tredwell and Ravi Bopara. Tredwell was worth his four wickets, while Bopara was impossible to hit out of the attack.
As great as those two were, the man who took three wickets will be more important for England’s continued progress: Graeme Swann. England have generally struggled to finish teams off in this tournament due to a lack of killer instinct from the bowlers. Swann possesses it but had yet to show it in this tournament. Now that he’s regained his mojo, England have a bowler capable of winning matches.
Swann was emotional in the pre-match ceremony. He did not look like a man who wanted to return home, an accusation constantly levelled against England in the last month. It probably has some truth in it – that they have performed in the games against the top teams but lost to Ireland and Bangladesh suggests they only have the mental energy to get themselves up for the big games.
From the frenzied way England celebrated their win – from the players on the pitch to those who weren’t picked and the backroom staff – it was tangible that this World Cup suddenly means something to the players. They might have to improve a large amount to threaten their rivals in the later stages, but who would want to play them in the quarter-finals?
Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter: WisdenCric_Dan