Everything seemed to be falling into place for Eoin Morgan’s England team at the Cricket World Cup, to the point where some watchers were saying the group stage was becoming stale.
Time to think again.
Rather than beating struggling Sri Lanka, returning to top spot in the standings and rolling into the semifinals, Morgan’s top-ranked England is in a more delicate position.
After being bowled out for 212 while chasing 233 to beat Sri Lanka on Friday, England has a few days to regroup ahead of its game against defending champion Australia at Lord’s, the spiritual home of cricket. Then there’s No. 2-ranked India and 2015 finalist New Zealand, both unbeaten so far.
To put the degree of difficulty in context, England has not beaten Australia, India or New Zealand at a World Cup since 1992.
The top four teams after the league stage advance to the semifinals, and suddenly those top four spots aren’t being perceived as predictable.
England does have a superior record in recent seasons after a major strategic overhaul following its group-stage exit in 2015. It’s an attacking revolution that has been designed to peak for England to claim its first World Cup title on home soil.
And that’s what Morgan is relying on to lift his team after the deflating loss in Yorkshire. England’s emphatic tournament-opening win over South Africa at the Oval was followed by an upset loss to Pakistan.
But England rebounded to beat Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan. Morgan set a world record with 17 sixes in his 148 against Afghanistan, and England improved its own mark to 25 sixes as it posted 397-6, the highest total so far in the tournament.
Morgan is banking on a comeback next week.
“When we get beaten we tend to come back quite strong,” he said. “We tend to resort to being aggressive, smart, positive cricket, so let’s hope that is the case,” against Australia. The Australians have won five games and lost one _ to India.
Things started OK for England, having Sri Lanka at 3-2 in the third over with Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes getting early wickets. Archer went on to take two more, and join Australia’s Mitch Starc atop the World Cup wickets list with 15.
The target appeared achievable, until Lasith Malinga took four wickets and Dhananjaya de Silva’s 3-3 in nine balls, a slide triggered by a rash dismissal by Moeen Ali (16) in his 100th ODI for England.
Malinga struck second ball to remove Jonny Bairstow and accounted for the injured Jason Roy’s replacement, James Vince, for 14.
Joe Root held things together with 57 _ his fourth score of 50 or more in the tournament _ until he edged Malinga down the leg side and was caught behind. That gave the Sri Lanka paceman 50 World Cup wickets, only the fourth bowler ever to achieve that milestone.
Malinga took one more, and almost got a fifth but Ben Stokes was dropped in the deep. Stokes was stranded on 82 at the end.
“We are going to lose games in the group stages. We didn’t deserve to win today’s game,” said Morgan, adding that there was no reason for his team to lose the sense of belief it has built over the last four years. “We still need to go back to the process that’s taken us to being a strong side in the world.”