1. Home
  2. /

  3. /

    What went wrong with the English team in the 2023 World Cup (Part 2)
What went wrong with the English team in the 2023 World Cup (Part 2)
English cricket team. Source: https://www.daily-bangladesh.com/

What went wrong with the English team in the 2023 World Cup (Part 2)

Extraneous Influences

The national team players were, in theory, resting at home. However, they found themselves engaged in discussions with their agents regarding central contract offers, weighing up the options of signing multi-year deals or keeping their futures open. Many of them were hesitating to make a decision. As an example,  Topley did not commit to his one-year contract until the tournament was already underway, four games in.

When the squad gathered at Lord's for a Professional Cricketers' Association lunch on the day of their departure, David Willey discovered that he was the only player heading to India without a contract. Undeterred, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the World Cup, with his teammates joking that he had launched "Dave's Tours" when he organised several treks in Dharamsala - though he admitted that being the outlier made things more challenging.

England's arrival in India was quickly met with another challenge. When Stokes reached Guwahati, he had only played three matches in the past two months. He was still experiencing a chronic left-knee injury that required surgery to heal. Therefore he would be limited to batting duties, making the team more challenging to even out compared to 2019.

The rain stopped the warm-up game against the Indian Team, allowing them to return to the Radisson Blu Hotel early. This was a perfect moment for Stokes to exploit the time he had given to train with the strength and conditioning coach, Andy Mitchel. Yet, while being in the midst of a session, he felt a sharp pain in his hip. For the next 36 hours, he feared his World Cup participation was in jeopardy. Fortunately, scans showed no serious injury, but he was still ruled out of the tournament's opening stage.

As the England team took the field for the national anthems before their first match against New Zealand, they were surprised by the sparse attendance at the Narendra Modi Stadium, even considering the 2 PM start on a weekday. "This is the opening World Cup match, with the teams from the previous final, but I expected a much larger crowd," said Joe Root. They were accustomed to packed stadiums in India, no matter if it was international cricket or the IPL.

Bairstow and Livingstone. Source: Daily Pioneer
Bairstow and Livingstone. Source: Daily Pioneer

Potential Comeback

The English team's performance in the 50-over format seemed to have lost its rhythm. Bairstow and Livingstone were both dismissed by playing half-hearted attacking shots, while Malan, Buttler, and Sam Curran edged the ball behind defensively. Chris Woakes struggled to maintain control over his length, and Mark Wood was heavily punished by Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra. It was evident that the squad had never played together earlier. The players were unsettled by how effortless batting appeared under floodlights for New Zealand, after England's laboured effort during the day, and feared that the tournament would follow the pattern of the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE: win the toss, win the game. Joe Root, who top-scored with 77, stated that the conditions had changed "drastically" between innings; Livingstone commented, "Hopefully Jos [Buttler] will become really good at the toss."

Despite this setback, Buttler won seven of the next eight tosses, but it did not significantly benefit England. By the time they arrived in Delhi a week later, the situation had improved. They had bounced back with a 137-run win over Bangladesh in Dharamsala, set up by Malan's 140 and Root's second consecutive half-century, and their team balance looked much better with Topley replacing Moeen Ali. Their upcoming opponents, Afghanistan, had started with two heavy defeats, extending their World Cup losing streak to 14 games across three editions. Despite the mistakes England made in their preparation, they were in a strong position.

Shardul Thakur. Source: Hindustan Times
Shardul Thakur. Source: Hindustan Times

Facing the Reality

The match got off to a lacklustre start for England. Woakes' first delivery went wide down the leg side, which Buttler fumbled, and Afghanistan were 0 for 0 without facing a proper ball. Recognising the new ball as the optimal time to bat, Afghanistan raced to 106 for 0 after 14 overs. England managed to slow the scoring using their spinners, Livingstone and Rashid, but a late surge allowed the Afghanistan team to accomplish 284 in their innings.

England's decisions were based on the high-scoring nature of the previous two matches played in Delhi during the World Cup. Buttler cited India's selection of Shardul Thakur over R Ashwin as a reason for England's choice to go with Curran over Moeen. They anticipated the pitch would play similarly, with the potential for dew in the second half. The Feroz Shah Kotla track proved to be a traditional one, becoming slower and more sluggish as the match progressed. England showed too much deference to Afghanistan's spinners, rarely attempting to sweep or use their feet, and played tentative shots. Key, who had joined the touring party in Delhi, was alarmed by England's apparent lack of identity. "Generally, England set the tone, bat or ball - and we weren't doing that," he observed.

Ultimately, England were bowled out for 215, with only Brook, who scored 66 off 61 balls, managing to assert himself. Mott sensed a team that "didn't really fire a shot" due to a lack of confidence. In the dressing room, he reminded them of their ability to bounce back from similar situations in previous World Cups, hoping to reignite the sense of do-or-die urgency that had prompted their best performances in 2019 and 2022. With Buttler fatigued after extensive media commitments, Stokes stepped up to reinforce Mott's message.

Lacking Self-Assurance

The following week in Mumbai was marked by miscommunication and confusion. England clearly struggled after their second defeat and needed to respond, but still had six matches remaining and could afford to lose at least one, if not two, more. Mott addressed the media and was, if anything, overly candid in his assessment: "You don't lose your abilities overnight, but you can lose your confidence," he stated. "Some of the players are really struggling to find their rhythm in the 50-over format."

Mott had noted the importance of "dominating the opening 15 overs" with both bat and ball, but this approach did not appear to have been put into practice. Barely a day later, Bairstow proposed an alternative strategy, suggesting that the optimal tactic in India was to "build, build, build" throughout the innings before unleashing a late assault: "Look at India: they don't simply go all out in the first ten overs." This not only disregarded Rohit Sharma's lightning-fast starts but also contradicted the instructions given by the coach.

A member of the team privately voiced concerns that the batters were prioritising their individual performances over the team's interests, with Stokes' imminent return prompting a re-evaluation of the selection strategy. Though Mott rejected the notion of "widespread changes" against South Africa, England ultimately made three out of a possible four alterations: Stokes, Willey, and Gus Atkinson replaced the out-of-form Livingstone, Curran, and Woakes, while Moeen was once again omitted. This decision signalled a departure from their established strengths of versatility and batting depth, as they left four all-rounders on the bench, with Willey relegated to the number seven spot below six specialist batters.

The pivotal error occurred at 1:33 PM when South Africa's temporary captain Aiden Markram made an incorrect decision at the coin toss. "We'll bowl first," Buttler stated. "[It's] generally a good ground for chasing, so that's the reason behind it." In one respect, Buttler was accurate: teams batting second had won 75% of the ODIs held at the Wankhede Stadium over the preceding decade. The sole hitch? The sample size amounted to a mere four matches. Data from the IPL supported Buttler's theory, yet was largely inconsequential, as the vast majority of IPL fixtures were contested under floodlights from start to finish in the evening. England either underestimated or disregarded the impact that the 38-degree heat and enervating humidity would have on their players. "It was likely hotter than we accounted for," Mott remarked. South Africa, who had just suffered defeat while chasing against the Netherlands, were "stunned... we wanted to bat first solely due to the heat," explained Heinrich Klaasen, who compiled a century from 61 deliveries against a fatigued bowling attack - which drained him so thoroughly that he spent the second innings wrapped in a towel in the dressing room.

Head coach Matthew Mott and captain Jos Buttler were resolute in their belief that their most aggressive bowling approach was the best path to quickly dismissing South Africa for a low total. However, this strategy was complicated when seamer Reece Topley suffered an early injury, fracturing his finger while fielding a delivery he had just bowled.

Despite the game plan centring around claiming early wickets, Buttler ultimately felt compelled to turn to part-time spinner Joe Root to plug the gap left by Topley's absence. By the time Topley's allocation of overs was covered, Root had conceded 48 runs without taking a wicket, and South Africa had raced to 156-2 after just 23 overs, leaving Mott and Buttler's aggressive tactics in tatters.

All-rounder Topley made a comeback, heavily medicated with pain medication and with his digits bound together, and was required in the latter stages of the match when speedster Wood was again struggling to contain the opposition batters. With deputy captain Moeen occupied with hydration duties, captain Buttler urgently needed assistance from his experienced players, but found himself frantically scurrying between the stumps and his bowlers' delivery strides, as senior players Stokes and Root stood stationed at the boundary's edge. By the conclusion of the innings, coach Mott described the on-field chaos as resembling "a wartime battlefield".

The English batters were still struggling when they took the field half an hour later. Despite highlighting the importance of playing long innings, Bairstow swung wildly at Lungi Ngidi's delivery and was caught in the deep, leaving the team's score at 68 for 6 in the 12th over. There was a touch of irony in the 70-run stand between Wood and debutant Gus Atkinson for the final wicket. If England had managed to bat out their overs, the dew that prompted Buttler's decision to bowl first might have worked in their favour.

Get the latest news to your inbox.

Subscribe to the newsletter

We value your privacy and promise not to distribute your email to third parties.