England Stutter into Life

So England got off the mark. Hardly a quick start, more of an apologetic shuffle. They certainly didn’t swat away Scotland with ease, they laboured through the contest and a more ruthless side would have punished them for their inadequacies.

Perhaps Scotland should just be happy to be at the World Cup. Perhaps that is their lot. To be spoken of in the same breath as Test-playing nations. But that’s not what Preston Mommsen and his men have come for, nor is it what the cricket watching public want to see. In this, currently the final 10+ team World Cup, there has been more talk than ever on the state of the game outside the full member nations. All four associate sides have acquitted themselves well thus far, and have avoided embarrassment and then some. In fact, it is established sides such as Pakistan, England and West Indies that have drawn the most derision in the opening matches.

If Scotland are serious about their intentions not just to make up the numbers, then they have every reason to be disappointed with their performance yesterday. They weren’t trounced, and England never looked like running away with the game. This, in previous times, would have been seen as a success for a side that operates on a fraction of the budget of the ECB. But in the here and now, Scotland’s performance did not do themselves justice.

In conceding 15 wides, not only did the Scots give away free runs, they also had to bowl nearly an extra three overs. While for the most part, Scotland fielded superbly, their ground fielding was faultless and they had intensity to rival both the co-hosts in the field, they suffered an aberration as Freddie Coleman put down Moeen Ali in the covers when he had made just 7. It was not a straight forward catch, the ball dipping in front of him awkwardly, but for what is now a fully professional side, it was a missed opportunity. One that arguably cost them the game.

After the drop Moeen did what he does best. Interspersing languid drives with airy play and misses. Fortunately for England we saw far more of the former. It was a timely innings for Moeen, who has struggled to get going in his last few matches, spanning back to his hundred at Colombo. If Moeen Ali was all flair and effortless stroke play, Ian Bell was the antithesis. He was uncharacteristically dogged and devoid of natural timing. However, as George Dobell rightly points out for ESPNCricinfo, his innings shows the difference in class between the sides. Bell will be berated for his slow scoring rate, but he showed his experience in this match, and when he was dismissed at 172/1 in the 31st over, he had set England a perfect platform.

From here onwards, it was an all too familiar tale for England. An inability to adapt to conditions and the match situation saw the wrong batsmen come in at the wrong times. Morgan or Buttler would surely have been a better option at number three than the out-of-form Gary Ballance. Indeed, Buttler was given the princely total of 5.1 overs in which to showcase his abilities. Alongside an improving Morgan, he put on 45 for the sixth wicket in just 23 balls.

England’s woeful last 20 overs, where they garnered just 131 runs, would have perhaps been forgivable had they been facing world-class death bowlers. However, with all due respect to Scotland, they were not.

Majid Haq is a clever bowler. Majid Haq is a wily bowler. Majid Haq is an experienced bowler. Majid Haq is not however, a death bowler. His mixture of slow balls, slower balls and even slower balls left England completely strokeless. England appeared to be dumbfounded by Haq’s loopy spinners. At the other end, they were facing a bevvy of medium pacers, none of whom were procuring any prodigious swing or seam movement. England’s final 20 overs were simply unforgivable.

Sure England are off the mark for this World Cup, but this performance is not going to worry any of the serious contenders for the trophy. With the weather in the antipodes anything but predictable, England have left themselves no room for further mistakes. As for Scotland, they may never have had a better chance to beat the auld enemy, and will rue their ill-discipline. But on this evidence, they shouldn’t remain winless at World Cup’s for much longer.

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