Yesterday’s match between England and New Zealand turned into a rout with England batting first and being dismissed for a paltry 123 off 33.2 overs, thus earning the dubious distinction of having the lowest score and batting for the fewest overs so far in the tournament. While I had predicted that England would not win this tournament, this performance was far worse than even I expected and can only be described as an utter humiliation. New Zealand, on the other hand, cemented their reputation as the team to watch in this tournament.
New Zealand showed their strengths of tight, disciplined bowling, especially by their fast bowler Tim Southee who turned in a remarkable piece of swing and seam bowling, gaining figures of 7 wickets for just 33 runs off 9 overs, and sharp fielding, cutting off boundaries and holding their catches. (For those not familiar with cricket jargon, ‘swing’ means the fast bowler gets the ball to change direction while in the air and ‘seam’ means getting it to change direction after it bounces on the ground.)
When New Zealand batted, they got off to an even quicker start than usual with captain Brendon McCullum showing the kind of explosive hitting he is famous for. He blasted the English bowlers for 77 off just 25 balls, getting his fifty in just 18 balls which is a World Cup record, though South Africa’s AB de Villiers has the record for the fastest ever in international games at just 16 balls. New Zealand reached their final score of 125 in just 12.2 overs
It is clear that New Zealand’s opponents need to have a plan to get rid of McCullum before he does serious damage. He cannot be constrained by restricting his ability to score runs. You have to plan to get him out quickly or you are done for. He and de Villiers and West Indies’s Chris Gayle are three players who can break a game wide open and almost single-handedly carry a team’s batting, though Gayle has been in a slump.
England is by no means out of the running. Before the tournament began, I expected them to lose these two games and still make it to the quarterfinals. The two games they have lost are to two of the most highly favored teams. The remaining four group matches are against weaker teams (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Scotland, and Sri Lanka) and they have a reasonable chance of winning at least three and moving on to the next round.
But what should concern them is the way they lost these two games. They didn’t show any fight at all. The reaction in the British media has been brutal (see here, here, and here) but I think they are over-reacting. Sports media and sports fans tend to be too mercurial, swinging from absurd cheerleading to extremely harsh criticism, and too quickly calling for drastic changes to be made based on one bad performance. It was undoubtedly a bad performance but England can recover.
Today sees two games, Pakistan versus West Indies and Australia versus Bangladesh. The first should be close as both teams seek to recover from their prior losses to India and Ireland respectively. In the second, I just cannot see Bangladesh pulling off such a huge upset.