Nothing in this world is certain.
Except death, taxes … and an England meltdown on the eve of a major one-day tournament.
Since the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand two years ago, England have transformed themselves from pedestrian, one-paced also-rans to perhaps the most dynamic white-ball team on the planet.
But the final one-day international against South Africa at Lord’s on Sunday was a worrying return to the past as they suffered the worst top-order collapse in ODI history on their way to a morale-sapping seven-wicket defeat.
No team had ever lost six wickets inside the first five overs of a 50-over international.
But England managed it as they slumped to 6-20 under leaden skies at Lord’s.
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That they rallied to post a total of 153 at least ensured Eoin Morgan’s team avoided total humiliation when at one stage they looked certain to fall to England’s lowest score in ODI history.
That was the 86 all out inflicted by Australia at Old Trafford in 2001.
Yet even the avoidance of that unwanted record only came to pass thanks to a half-century from Jonny Bairstow that has put the cat firmly among the selection pigeons ahead of England’s Champions Trophy opener against Bangladesh at The Oval on Thursday.
Throw in a trio of injuries to key players in Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali and you have the recipe for a nightmare build-up to a tournament for which the hosts were supposed to enter as favourites.
Instead Australia and New Zealand, the two 2015 World Cup finalists sharing a pool with the hosts, will now be smelling blood and hoping the neurosis that so often affects England in major one-day tournaments will surface once again.
That is far from certain given this is a team who before their Lord’s defeat had won their previous eight ODIs. This performance also came in a dead rubber after they had wrapped up their three-match series against the world’s No1 side with a game to spare.
Still, any complacency in the England camp has been well and truly eradicated after this defeat.
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Trevor Bayliss, England’s Australian coach, admitted: “Today’s result ensures we go into the Champions Trophy without big heads."
Bairstow’s position in England’s squad has been that of a fill-in player who has never failed to produce runs when given the opportunity.
But the Yorkshireman’s 51 at Lord’s was his third half-century in his past four one-day internationals, while he was unbeaten on 10 in the other.
His frustration at failing to get into a formidable top six is palpable. However, there is a chance that the recent poor form of Jason Roy might see him gatecrash England’s Champions Trophy team as an opener.
Roy was the first wicket to fall at Lord’s, edging the impressive Kagiso Rabada to slip on four. His last six ODI innings now read: 4, 8, 1, 20, 0, 17.
England’s consistency of selection has been one of their main strengths since the last World Cup. It has allowed the batsmen, in particular, to embrace an aggressive mindset safe in the knowledge that they will be given a run in the team whatever the results.
Roy has been a big part of England’s upturn in form, which was illustrated by the ODI world record total of 3-444 total they posted against Pakistan at Trent Bridge last August.
Yet in Bairstow, England have a player whose form is demanding selection. Bairstow scored 89 when tried out as an opener in a warm-up match during his country’s tour of the West Indies in February. He also smashed 174 at the top of the order in a domestic 50-over match for Yorkshire at the start of the month.
Dropping Roy wouldn’t be as dramatic – or as ill-advised – as parachuting Gary Ballance into the team for the opening match of the last World Cup against Australia at the MCG. It would, though, open England up to accusations of the kind of last-minute meddling that has undermined them in so many recent one-day tournaments.
Bayliss, seemingly unaffected by that history, has floated the idea of dropping Roy, saying: “We’ll have to wait and see but it will be an interesting selection meeting."
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However, Morgan appeared in conflict with his coach when he said: “As regards selection, Jason is our number one pick at the moment. Him and Alex Hales have been our one and two for quite some time. They’ve had their ups and downs but ultimately they played in the fashion that we have played as a team and they’ve been very important to that.”
England will hope this performance was a one-off aberration and that Stokes, Woakes and Moeen will all be fit for the Bangladesh match.
Win that convincingly and defeat in this dead rubber can be forgotten.
Anything less and they will be left vulnerable to the demons that have haunted them at so many previous major tournaments.
Champions Trophy 2017 Guide
Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.
Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.
26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval
27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston
28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval
29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston
30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston
30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval
1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)
2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)
3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)
4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)
5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)
6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)
7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)
8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)
9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)
10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)
11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)
12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)
14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)
15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)
18 June – Final, The Oval (D)
19 June – Reserve day (D)