After four years of build up and a rising crescendo of expectations, England's World Cup campaign seems to be coming a cropper. The reputation of the English side for being the greatest chasers in the game, capable of hunting down even scores of 350+ has been consigned to mud. All three defeats of England, one each to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now Australia, in this tournament have come while chasing. It's clear the brand of aggressive, fearless cricket that this team thrived on is falling apart under the pressure of playing on the biggest stage. The Kangaroos have become the first team to qualify for the semis and are looking as good as any side to go all the way.
So, what caused the English team to go down, virtually in a heap, to the Australians? What made the Aaron Finch-led team so successful in this game? Here are the biggest reasons.
Poor bowling up front from English bowlers
After winning the toss, Eoin Morgan decided to bowl first. His decision was justified as the ball was moving around in the early part of Australian innings. But both the opening bowlers, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer, didn't utilize the conditions properly. They bowled too short and allowed the Aussie batsmen to see off the difficult phase without any wickets lost. Archer especially never really bowled consistently on the correct length. In comparison, the Australian pair of Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff showed what needed to be done and reduced English team to 26/3 with correct length and lines. They pitched the ball up and allowed it to move. English bowlers failed to do that.
Inability of England to bat modestly
This has been an issue discussed for a long time in English cricket circles. Their team has been getting big scores but are they inflexible in their batting approach? There have been worries expressed about this batting line-up that they know only one way of batting and can't adjust if the conditions are tough. This problem surfaced again in the game against Australia. The dismissals of Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler once again raise the question of why can't England, at times, not put away their aggressive style and play a little more steadily. If England flounder in the coming matches, Eoin Morgan and coach Trevor Bayliss will be severely criticized for promoting this mindset in the batsmen.
One problem facing the Australians in this World Cup has been the lack of quality in the seam bowling department apart from Starc and Pat Cummins. That problem got sorted out in the most emphatic manner thanks to Jason Behrendorff. In a very clever move, Australia chose Behrendorff as their new ball bowler. Knowing fully well that he is best with the new cherry whereas Cummins can be good with the older nut also, Australia opened the attack with the two left-arm seamers in their team and it produced great results straightaway. Behrendorff got the ball to swing and bowled a great spell up front. But in what was a bonus, he also performed well with the old ball and ended up getting a 5-for. With him also proving a threat, Australia now look a very dangerous side.
Like David Warner, Mitchell Starc didn't look in full flight at the start of the tournament. But as time has gone on, he seems to be getting that form back which won him the Man of the Tournament award in the last World Cup. The two deliveries that he bowled to dismiss Joe Root and Ben Stokes should send shivers down the spine of any batsman. The one to Root was a brilliant in-swinging full delivery that can be deadly early on in the innings while the perfect yorker to Stokes was as good as that delivery can get. Those deliveries also show his ability to swing both the new and the old ball. These two wickets hurt England more than any other because Root could have provided that stability that England needed and Stokes was playing beautifully when he got out. Mitch is now the leading wicket-taker in this World Cup and may well retain that appellation at the end of the event as well.
England's crumbling under pressure
Everything went well for England in terms of their preparation for the World Cup. But come the time to perform and England seemed to be gripped by stage fright. Could it be the pressure of expectations undoing them? There were a number of fielding mistakes from the hosts in this game which suggests precisely that. On top of that, their much-vaunted ability to chase big scores has completely deserted them. They are unable to chase even not-so-high totals. This also seems to be a result of inability to cope with pressure. After years of preparing for this event, they look unable to perform when the time has arrived.