Stuart Broad’s side advanced to the super eights stage of the competition with victory over Afghanistan on Friday, but were thumped by a Harbhajan Singh inspired India in their final group match. The fixture was a dead rubber, but India played with an intensity which England’s young guns simply could not match.
England’s middle order collapsed, 1990s style, against Harbhajan and leg spinner Piyush Chawla in Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium.
The pitch, though slower than in previous matches at the ground, didn’t really turn hugely, and those two are far from the best spinners in the tournament. Saeed Ajmal will be gutted that England will not face Pakistan in the next stage. Sunil Narine, George Dockrell and Ajantha Mendis will be licking their lips at the possibility.
It’s only so long before a team bowls 20 overs of slow stuff at them.
What will grind with the England management is that this current crop of batsmen, though young, are hardly alien to sub-continental conditions and a barrage of spinners.
Andy Flower dragged England to the top of the world in all three formats at times over the past 12 months with the kind of precise, minute planning which squeezes the best out of a strong but not extravagantly talented set of players.
Take Jonny Bairstow, for example. The Yorkshireman has played ODIs in Hyderabad, Delhi, Mohali, Mumbai and Kolkata and T20is in Kolkota, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and now Colombo in his short career. He, alongside Jos Buttler and Alex Hales attended a performance squad trip to India last winter. Buttler played in the Champions League for Somerset in India in 2011, Craig Kieswetter has been on three Asian tours with England, Eoin Morgan has been an IPL player, etc, etc…
There may be a miraculous eureka moment just around the corner, but it’s a wonder Broad’s reaction to the game as some sort of aberration didn’t take post-match interviewer Nasser Hussain’s eye out; such was the Pinocchio nature of his response. You suspect things will be more honest inside the camp, however well they appear to be playing in the nets.
Elsewhere, there have been a few positives for the defending champions. Graeme Swann might be permanently battling an elbow problem, but has shown why he has been ranked the best bowler in this format, and in great contrast to the Test team this summer, the fielding, particularly the catching, has been top drawer. It seems packing your team with wicket-keepers helps – Bairstow and Buttler can make a claim to be among the best boundary fieldsmen around.
But that alone won’t get them to the final in two weeks time. Not even close.