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From Favourites to Failures: Were We Too Hasty Calling England The World Cup favourites?

England’s World Cup campaign has been a roller-coaster so far. They came into the tournament as clear favourites. Since the last World Cup, England has rebuilt itself to become one of the most dangerous teams in world cricket. Filled with power hitters such as Roy, Bairstow, Morgan, Stokes, and Ali along with the solidity of Joe Root, England has cultivated a reputation for chasing big scores and winning tough matches. To top it all off, the World Cup is being held in their own backyard. They played the part of favourites initially, with four wins out of five games. However, they then suffered two consecutive defeats against Pakistan and Australia. The fallout was massive, with columnists suggesting that England needed “a dose of reality”, and that their campaign is just another in a “pantheon of debacles”. Michael Vaughn was particularly vitriolic, claiming that England were headed for their worst World Cup ever. He was involved in a spat with opener Jonny Bairstow, who had expressed his displeasure at England’s critics. Vaughn responded by slamming his “pathetic and negative mindset”, adding that instead of looking to jump on the teams throat, England had received overwhelming support from the fans. Lastly, Kevin Pietersen made the emasculating suggestion that Eoin Morgan was scared of Starc’s pace, and that he had “not witnessed such a sign of weakness from a captain for a while”. England are now faced with the task of defeating both India and New Zealand, lest their fortunes slip out of their own hands. They defeated India in a massive show of strength, but they still have a huge game coming up. England’s stuttering start has revived fears of another disappointing World Cup, and their fans are desperate to avoid another embarrassment. Their situation is not much different from South Africa, a team nicknamed ‘the chokers’ when it comes to World Cups. Normally, both teams are a force to reckon with, but at the global stage both falter and succumb to the pressure. This article analyses the merit of the panic induced by Englands campaign, and whether they deserve the criticism that has come their way.

When asked about England’s troubles in an interview, Virat Kohli responded by saying that that England were under pressure to perform at home, and that even the best teams can be vulnerable to having bad days. But given their recent run of form, they absolutely cannot afford any more of them. Their first four victories were all comprehensive routs. They won by more than a 100 runs in three of them, and by eight wickets in the fourth. However, these victories came against South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, four teams at the bottom of the table. The loss to Pakistan in their second game was a disappointing one. England were in the drivers seat with Joe Root and Buttler at the crease chasing 349, both having reached their centuries. But they couldn’t get the job done, and England ended up losing the game by 14 runs. Three wins later, they lost to Sri Lanka and Australia, again both chases. They had been bowled out for sub-250 scores in consecutive games. Just like the football World Cup, the dream of “its coming home” was turning out to be a very distant reality.

England responded with a decisive victory over India. With their back against the wall, England did well to soak up the pressure and come up with a mature team performance. But the fact that all their losses have come chasing will cast a looming shadow in the run-up to their game against New Zealand. This means that not only do England need to win, but they need to do it while batting second. Anything less, and the home team will not enter the semi-finals as favourites to lift the cup. One consolation here is that this is partly influenced by the quality of the team itself. England boast one of the most settled lineups in world cricket, possessing a healthy arsenal of big hitters, all rounders, bowlers, and anchors like Joe Root. But they have shown a tendency to falter under pressure, and noting but a comprehensive victory against New Zealand will convince otherwise.
If England defeat New Zealand, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be left herculean tasks to overtake New Zealand as the number fourth entry into the semi finals. Assuming they both fail, England will then have beaten two (India, New Zealand) of the other three participants, and England is unlikely to face Australia in the semi-final. The first team will play the fourth, and the second plays the third. This means that if England, India, Australia win all their remaining games, England will square off with India again. Even if Australia lose, India will need to win both their remaining games for England and Australia to be the semi-final draw. To sum it up, if England defeat New Zealand, they will enter the semi-final with a psychological advantage because they are likely to face either India or New Zealand.

So have England made a habit of choking at the big stage like South Africa? In 2015, South Africa made it to the semi-finals, while England crashed out at the group stage. Both were eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2011. Lastly, in 2007, South Africa made it to the semi-finals, while England fell short in the super eights. The Proteas have suffered a dramatic fall from their usual standards, managing only two wins from eight games, one of which came against Afghanistan. But before this edition, they have done better than England. The fallout from their two match losing streak has proved that England need to win the tournament to establish themselves as the best team in the world. A lot is riding on their match against New Zealand, despite the fact that technically, they can still make the playoffs if they lose. Regardless of the results, this is the undoubtedly one of the best squads England has had in quite a while, and their quality makes ‘choking’ that much more embarrassing.

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