Saturday, 14 February 2015

New cup, same story

Saturday, 14 February 2015
So it began, with a 111-run defeat on the very first day. A lot of things went wrong for England, right from the very beginning where Finch was dropped on zero, to the end where dubious umpiring denied James Taylor of a maiden international century. All in all, it was far from the start to the tournament they would have hoped for.

Aaron Finch was dropped for nought in the very first over. 36 overs and 135 runs later, it was a mistake England were sorely regretting. It wasn't just Finch causing the damage either, Bailey playing second fiddle in the pair's 146 run partnership with an innings of 55; Maxwell hurting England once again with 66 from 40 balls; Haddin as ever popping up to inflict further pain with 31 from 14. As ever, much of the damage came at the death for England, but really, they'd been damaged long before. At the end of the innings, Finn found himself with five wickets and a hat trick to boot; but it was a hat trick full of slogs, not really one to cherish. England were left with 343 runs to chase.

Then a batting collapse cost England, as it always seems to do. Too many wickets in the middle order falling too cheaply, I'm tired of saying it. Today 66/2 became 92/6; in recent matches we've also seen 135/2 become 184/6, 40/1 become 66/5, 253/2 become 303/8, as well as tragic positions such as 136/6, 126/6, 123/6, etc. after failures from the very start. There's a pattern, and it's eternally frustrating. Like an episode of Eastenders, the Mitchells caused the problems for England today, a trio of Starc, Johnson, and Marsh. It was the most unlikely of the three who did the best, Mitch Marsh picking up his first five wicket haul in ODIs, doing the damage by taking out Ballance, then Bell, then Root, then Morgan, then Buttler to leave England's innings in tatters. Mitchells Starc and Johnson picked up two wickets apiece, and with a run out as well, the job was done for Australia.

But along the way, Australia let it slip for a while. Though the result was never really in doubt after England fell to 92/6, too many wickets down and too high a run rate to keep up with (although the worms weren't ever that far apart), Australia didn't seal the deal in the way you might have expected. Taylor was dropped by Finch on 20, the fielding wasn't as sharp as it should have been, and at last the runs were coming along for England. Woakes and Taylor shared a partnership of 92, the only trouble was that it was ultimately too late. But Taylor's innings in particular was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak match for England. His 98* was full of invention, and though he had a somewhat scratchy start, he showed fight and played some lovely attacking cricket. He's had a long time waiting on the sidelines, waiting for a chance in the side, and I am so happy that he's seizing the opportunity in the way he is.

Taylor should have had a century. He deserved it. But the first day of the World Cup was already the time for the first umpiring farce of the tournament. An LBW appeal was given out, and slightly afterwards the stumps were broken and Anderson was run out - though by this time it had become a dead ball. Taylor's LBW dismissal was overturned by DRS, but the run out decision was given. It wasn't right, even though the LBW was ultimately rightly deemed incorrect, it should have remained a dead ball. The ICC have admitted as much, but as it was, the umpires got it wrong. Even if ultimately, it meant very little, it was a great shame to see Taylor denied a century. And who knows if net run rate will later come back to haunt England.

But umpiring woes shouldn't disguise the fact that England had a shocker. Though this may not have been a match they would have expected to win in the grand scheme of things, such a heavy defeat really was the worst possible way to start a World Cup. And the focus is finding its way back to the captain once again - Morgan's last four innings have read 0, 2, 0, 0. The failings can't be masked for too much longer. England's next match comes on Friday against the other team with home advantage, New Zealand. It'll be far from easy, but they have to improve. Win or not, it has to be better next time.

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