On a leisurely pre-winter afternoon in Bangalore, the groundsmen and guards were still stretching their limbs, napping in the shade, and letting out deep yawns when Jos Buttler set foot on the ground. He looked up at the sun, which might have been kinder than the fire in Mumbai. He strolled to the square where three pitches were covered with a thin layer of tent cloth while he observed the eagles swooping down. A groundsman gave a sneak peek, his face wearing a puzzled expression.
He stopped and turned around as he trudged back to the dressing room. He observed some of the best people in England working on their chores. Ben Stokes, the man of miracles, was swinging for the fences. One of the best batsmen England has produced in this generation, Joe Root, was practising late cuts. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, the spin duo, were engrossed in an extended conversation. Jonny Bairstow was batting in shadows, as in beneath a stand’s shadow. There are six English World Cup champions in the 2023 edition as well. Less than a year ago, thirteen of them had packed it in for the 2022 T20 World Cup victory. As one might expect from multiple-format reigning world champions, England appeared to be quite a formidable force in the lead-up to the World Cup, even if the man responsible for their white-ball success, Eoin Morgan, had retired.
After three weeks and three heartbreaking losses, however, they find themselves not only on the verge of elimination from the competition but also questioning whether this marks the start of the end of an era or, even more damning if the era has already ended and they are just losing sleep over a competition. The ageing of the side is evident. With an average age of 31.8, England is the oldest squad participating in this competition, yet they are still considered to be at their peak. However, the majority of the spinners who are over 35 are still in their early 30s, so the physical effects of playing cricket have not yet taken their toll.
After all, the performances cannot take a startling turn for the worst in a few months. A few months prior, several of these same players were top performers in the Ashes. They couldn’t be fatigued either, as they weren’t coming back from a hectic season. They won the T20 World Cup around the same time this year, but an end-of-year competition may be taxing on the physical and the mind. Joe Root blamed not playing enough games for the lack of performance the other day. They have only played four ODIs in the last six months, so it’s possible that they might have benefited from playing more, but these are seasoned players who could easily transition between formats. like all others who perform better do. In the same period, South Africa had only played one match more than England.
It’s possible that their motivation is waning and that their ingrained belief that they have achieved everything is holding them back when they encounter difficulties. There’s no denying that it would be alluring to defend the championship and establish Australia as one of the greatest teams of all time at the beginning of the century, but losing three straight games would, among other things, lead to a sense of despair.
Since they have played fewer minutes together, England have not yet found their best eleven players. In one game, they use utility men to go for batting depth; in the next, they do a sharp U-turn and load specialists. such as their form. They let up over eight runs per over against South Africa and New Zealand, while their weaknesses against spinners were revealed against Afghanistan. None, save for Root, have been reliable. In just one innings, Dawid Malan even scored 140 against South Africa. Between them, the white-ball poster boys, Buttler and Bairstow, have managed just 184 runs. Only Rashid and part-time bowler Liam Livingstone have given up fewer than six runs per over among the bowlers.
Beyond them, though. In their minds, England appears to have lost the tournament. There was definitely a dearth of joy and a feeling of flatness. When they encountered South Africa, it became much more apparent. Here was South Africa’s tactical domination, its unrestrained aggression and mental clarity; and here, bloated with victory, was the decadence befitting a white-ball behemoth.