Six losses in thirty-four games preceded this tournament, and against the very same set of opponents, Matthew Mott’s team have equalled that number of defeats in just seven matches. Losses to the formidable India and Australia are nothing more sinister than a disappointing afternoon, but heavy defeats to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are not only cause for crisis, but an absolute necessity for change. Going into the tournament with a strong team consisting of Ben Stokes, the hero of England’s 2019 World Cup triumph; Harry Brook, in the conversation as the new star of the world game and Joe Root, who throughout his esteemed England career has never needed a justification, England fans had their sights set on at least a semi-final appearance, with genuine belief that they could retain their crown.
It was also Jos Buttler’s second World Cup in his captaincy, yet his first in the longer format and this inexperience has been on show throughout. From picking an unsettled and unbalanced eleven each game to abysmal decisions at the toss, England’s opening game against their final opponents four years prior set the tone for a disastrous campaign. New Zealand dismissively chased down England’s below-par 282, losing just one wicket at the hands of England’s toothless bowling attack. Crucially, that attack did not feature the enigmatic superstar, Jofra Archer, who had played such a talismanic role in their 2019 glory. They were also missing legendary captain, Eoin Morgan, who had led this team to world domination and now called the shots from the Sky Sports commentary box. His calming and controlled influence over the team was even more notable in its absence as team selection suffered. Harry Brook was dropped whilst Joe Root, a man who has experienced a staggering drop of form this month, remained the head of the abysmal batting lineup.
A comfortable victory over a poor Bangladesh side gave supporters hope that the New Zealand thrashing was purely a false start, with Root and Malan cashing in on big scores, however a crushing sixty-nine run defeat to surprise package Afghanistan confirmed that things were horribly out of place in the England camp. With problems on the pitch, and suspected issues off it surrounding player contracts, a crunch match against early pace-setters South Africa felt like the perfect opportunity for this fine team to arrive at this tournament. However, leaking one short of four hundred runs and being bowled out for under two hundred, it was nothing short of a hammering that was replicated by Sri Lanka five days later: signalling the beginning of the end of England’s World Cup defence.
The end was in sight as teams that would usually fear the tournament holders were bookmarking their clash as the most winnable game of the group stage. Hosts and subsequent tournament favourites, India, made light work of Buttler’s men. Despite being restricted to 229, England’s star-studded batting lineup managed just 129 in their reply as their campaign came to a whispering close. Australia mathematically sent the Three Lions packing with a professional display to keep their own tournament hopes alive and left England sat at the foot of the group. With Pakistan and Netherlands still left to play and the Lions in danger of failing to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy, it makes you wonder what the future is for this group of players.
All eras come to an end and this team appear to have run their natural course. With the English Cricket Board making no secret of their prioritisation of test cricket, perhaps this downfall of the fifty-over format was inevitable, yet the disappointment that a group of fifteen superb cricketers cannot come together to at least make a fist of their title defence begs the question of after just two years, whether a ‘white-ball reset’ should once again take place within English cricket.