England are suddenly in a mess. With less than a week to go before the start of the Champions Trophy they are in that worrying place where they appear to have forgotten how to bat, bowl or field. Apart from that, as they say, all is hunky dory.
Two matches against New Zealand have exposed multiple defects at exactly the wrong time — the eve of a global tournament it was widely tipped they might easily win. They remain joint favourites but that is beginning to look increasingly fanciful.
Two inadequate totals two days apart have been complemented by two weak bowling efforts and increasingly shoddy catching and ground fielding. It is their third consecutive loss of a one-day series at home to New Zealand — they were beaten 2-0 in the 2004 series and 3-1 in 2008 — and is wretched preparation for their first match of the Champions Trophy against Australia on Saturday.
The side have one match left in this series against New Zealand to salvage something, anything from the wreckage of two heavy defeats, one by five wickets with 19 balls left, the other by 86 runs as England were bowled out with 35 balls unused.England will have to make changes for the third match against New Zealand at Trent Bridge tomorrow while trying to avoid devising policy on the hoof. There is only so much they can do with injuries to Stuart Broad and Steven Finn likely to continue to keep them out.
That may mean an England debut for the 28-year-old Warwickshire fast bowler, Boyd Rankin, who has played 37 one-day internationals for Ireland. He renounced the country of his birth last year to seek higher things. Under International Cricket Council regulations there are no restrictions on a player who has appeared for an associate member who wants to represent a full member. In Rankin’s case the move was primarily made because he wants to play Test cricket and nominally at least has a better chance with England of winning one-day trophies.
But Rankin is not in the Champions Trophy squad, or not yet at least, having been summoned as a precaution last week for three matches against the Kiwis. Chris Woakes, his Warwickshire team-mate, is one of England’s 15 officially announced players and is badly short of form.
Woakes may keep his place tomorrow but only because the other option, Jade Dernbach, who has also been dealt with severely by New Zealand, is not in the party for the tournament. Dernbach was also called up as cover and has had a bad time of it.
England’s batting order which has looked innocuous so far needs refreshing and Eoin Morgan, who should be their most important attacking player in the tournament, looks at risk. They will not change the opening pair of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell at this late stage.
Jonathan Trott’s position at number three was untouchable even before his fourth ODI century which was also the third fastest of his 24 innings above 50. Joe Root has neither outrageously failed nor succeeded at number four, Jos Buttler is obviously struggling to adapt to the demands of batting at six in internationals but he is the wicketkeeper so must stay. This leaves Morgan, a proven and spectacular match-winner who has made one half-century in his last 15 innings. What was working sublimely for him now looks like uncultured risk-taking. Such are the narrow dividing lines in modern batting. Ravi Bopara, a veteran of 83 one-day internationals going back to 2007 without a single century, may now be given a last-gasp opportunity to restate his claim as a bowling all-rounder.
England looked for all the world as though they had an effective strategy, honed last summer at home. It was based on five specialist bowlers, two of whom fit the bill as all-rounders, and six batsmen including the wicketkeeper. It leaves little scope for one of the bowlers to have a bad day and when two or more happen to do so the upshot can be unpleasant. This is now a stern challenge, not only for Cook’s captaincy but also for the fledgling international coaching skills of Ashley Giles. He cannot tear up plan A and go to plan B because, as has been suspected of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there is no plan B that can be put into operation at this late stage. Panic will not help but nor will the usual England response in these circumstances which runs along the lines of stating that everyone knows there are outstanding players in that dressing room and they do not become bad players overnight. New Zealand, as ever unsung and under-rated, have so far taken 19 wickets, one every 26.32 balls for 500 runs, while England have taken eight wickets, one every 73.75 balls for 590 runs. New Zealand have scored at a rate of 101.55 runs per hundred balls, England at 88. If those gaps do not close quickly the next fortnight could be an embarrassment for the host nation.