England's captain Jos Buttler (2nd left) along with teammates attends a practice session
England's captain Jos Buttler (2nd left) along with teammates attends a practice session on the eve of their 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match against India at the Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow on October 28, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Lucknow: When the Cricket World Cup schedule was announced in July, India vs. England on Sunday was expected to be a marquee match.

It will be anything but.

England’s poor showing at the World Cup so far has befuddled even its most ardent fans. One win from five games is the worst showing for a defending champion since 1999, when 1996 winners Sri Lanka won two out of five league games and failed to qualify for the next stage of that tournament.

England’s only win so far came at Dharamsala — beating Bangladesh by 137 runs. It is ninth in the points’ table with a minus 1.634 run-rate.

“I am not a mathematician but it is over now — with our net run-rate and too many teams who are going to take games off each other, we have to come to terms with that from now. We are (only) playing for a lot of pride,” England coach Matthew Mott said after an eight-wicket loss to Sri Lanka.

Despite what Mott said, England is still mathematically alive. If it wins four games in a row and reaches 10 points, then depending on other results, it could still be in with a chance of making the semifinals.

India flying high

Meanwhile, India has been flying high — the only unbeaten side with five wins in a row. It has beaten Australia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and New Zealand, accruing 10 points and a positive run-rate of 1.353. It is currently second on the table, after 5-1 South Africa – also on 10 points after it beat Pakistan in Chennai on Friday — took over first place with a better run-rate.

At this stage, there couldn’t be a greater disparity between the teams. India has two big names in the top run-scorers’ list — Virat Kohli with 354 runs, and Rohit Sharma with 311 runs, in five games. It also has two bowlers in the top wicket-takers’ list — Jasprit Bumrah with 11 wickets and Kuldeep Yadav with eight wickets.

England’s top scorer is Dawid Malan with 220 runs in five innings — 140 of them came against Bangladesh alone. Sam Curran — player of the tournament in the 2022 Twenty20 World Cup — has failed to make a mark and was dropped after three games.

“A lot of experienced guys who are fantastic cricketers — look at our dressing room. It is not a lack of talent. But this tournament hasn’t gone the way we wanted to. It has been a huge disappointment,” said England's Jos Buttler.

Meanwhile, India’s changes have worked out well. Star allrounder Hardik Pandya is out because of a left ankle injury, and his replacement Mohammed Shami took 5-54 against New Zealand.

India my opt for a three-spinner attack

Pandya is still missing for India and the hosts will play a similar combination as in Dharamsala. The only question pertains to conditions in Lucknow — the slower turning pitch could see Ravichandran Ashwin play his second game of the tournament.

Ashwin last played against Australia on October 5 in India’s tournament opener at Chennai. In that scenario, pacer Mohammed Siraj is expected to make way, with Shami teaming up with Bumrah for the new ball.

The off-spinner’s return will mean a three-spinner attack and it will only make the task tougher for beleaguered England.

"We don’t think of any opposition that way … any team on the given day can be dangerous,” Indian batsman Lokesh Rahul said when asked about England’s now-derailed campaign. “There is no team that starts off as favorite in a game of cricket or in any sport. It’s important that we keep doing what we have been doing and focus on our strengths.”