Jos Buttler
England’s Jos Buttler walks after being caught behind off the bowling of Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Kumara during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, India, on October 26, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

What happened to England? Double world champions they were one of the favourites at the Cricket World Cup. At the end of 25 matches, Jos Buttler’s side are staring at the possibility of crashing out of the tournament after the loss to Sri Lanka.

Can England still make the semifinals? Technically, yes. They still have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the knockout phase, provided the other results work in their favour. But realistically, Thursday’s loss to Sri Lanka spiked their hopes of making the last four. With just one win from five games, they sit near the base of the points table; only the Netherlands are below them.

What happened to England? Less than a year back, Buttler had led them to the Twenty20 World Cup title. Four years ago, Eoin Morgan had steered them to their maiden 50-over World Cup triumph. Some players in the current squad had figured in both the victories. So they know a thing or two about winning.

How England changed ODI cricket

Under Morgan, England played aggressive cricket and set the template for ODIs. With openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy racing off the blocks, England scored at a high run rate. The presence of stroke players and allrounders allowed them to maintain the run rate throughout the 50 overs. To put it in perspective, leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who came in at No.10, had been carting sixes.

Even in T20 games, England continued to employ the template with success. Which is why they came to India as one of the favourites to win the 50-over World Cup. Not just that. Most players are familiar with the Indian conditions. Buttler, Bairstow, Rashid, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, Joe Root and David Willey play in the Indian Premier League. It makes them capable of handling the hot and humid weather and vagaries of the Indian pitches.

After losing the inaugural game to New Zealand, England picked themselves up well against Bangladesh, with Dawid Malan scoring a big century. They hit the skids again with an unlikely loss to Afghanistan and never recovered. A pasting at the hands of South Africa followed before the capitulation to Sri Lanka.

Where did England go wrong? At the post-match chat with the broadcaster, Buttler was at pains to explain their abject failures. His own form was pathetic, and the middle-order caved it repeatedly.

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Worse was the bowling. Wood’s express pace went for runs in every match, while Chris Woakes struggled for early wickets, and Sam Curran was clueless. Only Reece Topley and Rashid salvaged their reputations.

The result was frequent changes. That’s not the sign of a confident side. That’s the sign of a frustrated team trying to arrest their decline. The changes didn’t help.

Can England resurrect their fortunes? Unlikely. Winning is a habit, so is losing. Their World Cup campaign is as good as over. They should return to the drawing board and rebuild the team through a few bilateral series. The crux of a future side is there. They have to find a winning combination.