Cricket World Cup 2023: England defeat by New Zealand a worry but do not panic yet.
It does not take much to make us wonder why we bother.
And a thrashing at the hands of New Zealand, a defeat as ugly as anything in white-ball cricket since the dark days of the 2015 World Cup, provides more than enough ammunition.
If England’s last meeting with the Black Caps at a 50-over World Cup was won by the barest of all margins in a Lord’s final, the gap in Ahmedabad in the first game of the World Cup was as wide as the Narendra Modi Stadium is large.
By the end boundaries were flowing off the bat of Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra at an alarming rate, the contest expected by those who did turn up long over.
New Zealand chased 283 with 13.4 overs to spare and nine wickets in hand.
England’s defence of their World Cup could not have made a worse start.
Having smiled through his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, captain Jos Buttler – never one to give much away – was, unsurprisingly, visibly annoyed 24 hours later.
“Are you confident you can turn it around?”
“What do you need to do to do that?”
“Play better,” was one spikey exchange in his post-match press conference.
Four years ago Jonny Bairstow was dismissed with the second ball of a World Cup. This time he hit the same delivery for six.
Perhaps he upset the cricketing gods in doing so because England rarely looked that comfortable afterwards.
Their batting, the strength that has taken them to their position of double world champions in white-ball cricket, was unusually muddled.
Bairstow’s six-hitting has banked him millions of Rupees on these shores but he fell lifting the ball into the hands of long-off, neither going for broke nor playing safe.
The same mistake was made by Liam Livingstone 25 overs later and, when England did attack, Harry Brook skied a catch to deep mid-wicket, while Moeen Ali and Joe Root were both bowled within the first seven balls delivered by Glenn Phillips, a man who had previously taken six one-day international wickets.
It was an innings that never really got going.
Then, when Conway creamed the first ball of the chase for four, fears England’s score was well below par were compounded.
Chris Woakes conceded another five boundaries in a difficult three-over opening spell that cost 27 runs and, with every one one, his grey hairs looked greyer.
Some will say this XI, featuring seven of the squad from 2019, is too old to win again.
Ben Stokes, the hero of the 2019 final but absent through injury here, could only offer Buttler a word in the ear during a drinks break as the match slipped away.
Asked about his squad’s age on Wednesday, Buttler said it was a “feather in everyone’s cap” that they were still playing at this level.
At an average of just over 31, they would be the oldest side to win a 50-over World Cup but we live in an era of Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Tom Brady.
The case that England looked underprepared has more value – the weather meaning one rain-shortened match was their only preparation in India before this curtain-raiser.
This side could have played some of the series at home against Ireland – this was only their 11th ODI with a first-choice XI this year – but former captain Aaron Finch is already raising concerns of Australian burnout at this tournament – his former side having already played eight matches in four weeks before this marathon tournament has begun.
After Woakes’ opening spell, Ravindra went on and on.
He is a Kiwi whose first name comes from his parents’ love of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid but looked more like the second coming of Brian Lara when flicking his back leg and pumping Woakes back over his head.
The 23-year-old’s previous high score in 33 internationals was 61 not out – England coming up against a player having the night of his life under the Gujarat lights.
But most of all this England team have earned our patience.
Yes, they were nippers rather than thrashings, but England lost three times in the 2019 group stage before ending the tournament in glory.
Last year their T20 World Cup win included a defeat by Ireland and just last month they were heavily beaten by New Zealand in the first ODI of a series they recovered to win 3-1.
England head to Dharamshala to play Bangladesh – where they should find an oasis of English seam-bowling conditions in the Himalayas – with the ability to bounce back in the muscle memory.
A meeting with Afghanistan, who have lost 14 of their 15 ODI World Cup matches, follows.
What’s more, none of the winners of the past 11 men’s World Cups, 50-over or T20, have gone through the tournament unbeaten.
“We were a long way short of our best and still made 280, which shows the level that we can play at,” Buttler said in his call for calm.
Worry, yes, but don’t panic just yet.