Ben Stokes says his own impressive form with the bat “counts for nothing” unless England put their ailing World Cup campaign back on track.
The hosts and pre-tournament favourites suffered their third defeat in seven games as Australia sealed their semi-final spot with a 64-run win at Lord’s.
All of their setbacks have come when chasing, a facet of the game that had become the team’s calling card on their road to topping the world rankings.
Only Stokes has performed close to his best in the past two pursuits, following an unbeaten 82 against Sri Lanka with a battling 89 in England’s 221 all out against the Australians.
It took a near unplayable inswinging yorker from Mitchell Starc to end his lone stand on Tuesday and Stokes’ reaction spoke volumes – dropping his bat, hoofing it in frustration and then shaking his head as he exited the stage.
The all-rounder would be forgiven for taking the positives from his first back-to-back half-centuries since early 2017 but he is focused on the task at hand: doing enough against India and New Zealand in the next two games to reach the knockout phase.
“It always feels nice getting runs and stuff like that, but it counts for nothing when you can’t get over the line,” he said.
“It’s just disappointing, losing again. Everyone tries to go out there and play knocks to get over the line for the team. Normally we have two or three guys in the order who can do that.
“We have to really dig deep in these last couple of games. It won’t look like it when we’ve been bowled out quite cheaply in the last two games but we are a very, very confident team in terms of our batting line-up and these last two games aren’t going to knock our confidence at all.”
Sunday’s meeting with India at Edgbaston promises to be a marquee occasion but with plenty of ‘away’ support expected from Birmingham’s Asian community.
Home advantage has not even extended to the pitches on show in the event so far, with slower, stickier pitches than England typically prefer
“We’ve got a great record against India in England, but we’ll just have to wait and see what conditions we’re faced with,” admitted Stokes.
“It could be completely different conditions to what we faced here at Lord’s. We know what we are going to do going in with our plans and then it’s all about adjusting once the game starts. But they are another team who are in good form, so hopefully we can bring our best game.”
Hopes are high that Jason Roy will be back in action by then, having missed the last three games with a torn hamstring.
He was in prime form when injury struck whereas his replacement, James Vince, has managed just 40 runs in three innings
“Obviously losing a player of Jason’s class is tough,” said Stokes.
“He’s a world-class player and obviously we do miss him at the top.
“In terms of James Vince coming in…he is a phenomenal player, we’ve seen it day in day out in first-class cricket, but it’s a tough place to be when you are on the fringes and then all of a sudden someone gets injured.”
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England opener Jason Roy will be given until the last moment to prove his fitness for Sunday’s crucial World Cup showdown with India.
Roy is working his way back from a hamstring tear which has forced him to miss the games against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Australia, but is being assessed on a daily basis ahead of the Edgbaston encounter.
An ECB spokesman said: “Jason Roy is making good progress from his hamstring injury. He is being assessed every day. Yesterday he batted in the nets and was also running shuttles on the outfield.
“A decision on whether he’ll be fit to resume against India will be made when we train on Friday and Saturday at Edgbaston.”
Roy is one of a series of fitness concerns with the hosts facing a fight to make the semi-finals after back-to-back defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid came into the tournament with a shoulder problem and reported soreness after Tuesday’s defeat by Australia, although he is not thought to be a doubt for the weekend.
The spokesman said: “Adil Rashid has some soreness to his right shoulder. He will be assessed over the next few days but he is expected to be available for selection on Sunday.”
England also have a concern over paceman Jofra Archer, but all-rounder Ben Stokes, who underwent treatment for a calf problem on the pitch at Lord’s, will be available.
The spokesman continued: “Jofra Archer has tightness to his left side and will continue to be assessed ahead of the India match.
“Ben Stokes sustained tight calves in yesterday’s match. He will be fit for Sunday’s match. He felt better after the game.”
Jonny Bairstow believes his opening partner Roy is “raring to go”.
He added to Sky Sports News: “Naturally he is frustrated. It’s never ideal to pick an injury up but to pick one up in the middle of a World Cup is definitely frustrating for him. He has been working hard to get back fit to be available for selection.”
Bairstow has not written off England’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals, with big games against India and New Zealand left in the group stage.
He added: “To lose at Lord’s is desperately disappointing. We bowled well to restrict them to that score and it was chaseable but lost early wickets which made it very difficult.
“There is no panic stations. We have played India before and been very successful against them, likewise with New Zealand, so we are looking forward to the next two games.
“If we do well in them we effectively have four must-win games all the way through to the end of the tournament. That’s really exciting.”
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Before the start for the 2019 World Cup, the Proteas were among the favourites to lift the title. And why not? They had a gun bowling attack led by the irrepressible Kagiso Rabada, reinforced by veteran spinner Imran Tahir and powered by a highly experienced batting line-up under the sound leadership of Faf du Plessis.
And well before the end of the league phase, South Africa are out of the World Cup. Actually, they were never really ‘in’ it to be out of it. While the record books will say their defeat to Pakistan was the result that sent them crashing out of the tournament, in reality it was just the time the doctor pronounced the patient dead; the writing was on the wall well before that.
Hardly any cricket follower, including me, expected South Africa to become one of the first teams to get knocked out and that too in emphatic fashion. Absolutely every aspect of their game carried a pungent odour which the tournament couldn’t wait to get rid off.
It started with a spate of injuries to key bowlers – starting with young quick Anrich Nortje, then to veteran quick Dale Steyn and briefly to Lungi Ngidi. It also became clear that spearhead Rabada hadn’t recovered fully from the back ailment he had picked up during the Indian Premier League and came into the tournament worn out.
Then there is the batting. Their highest score so far is 68. Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf, David Miller, Aiden Markram, JP Duminy seemed to be there just to make up numbers. Duminy has been on the international scene for 15 years and Miller for 11. But what’s the point of such experience – if you can call it that? In a way, you can understand why AB de Villiers ‘offered’ to come out of retirement right before the World Cup squad was to be announced. It was wrong on ABD’s part to walk out of the team last year – when he could have easily stuck around – and then make that ‘offer’ at the 11th hour. But maybe South Africa wouldn’t have been in such bad shape with ABD around. Anyhow, that’s water under the bridge. Time to move on.
However, if South Africa cricket fans think the worst is over, there is bad news for them. The gradual decline in the standards of South Africa cricket – hit hard by successive Kolpak deals taking the cream of Proteas cricketers to the UK and the far from ideal financial position of the cricket board – might just pick up speed now that the World Cup is over. More South African international players might take up county deals in England and give up on international careers.
When leading fast bowler Duanne Olivier gave up a chance to play the World Cup for South Africa and instead signed up a much more lucrative county deal with Yorkshire in February, the current state of cricket in South Africa was laid bare for the world to see. A hugely lucrative and long-term contract in the UK, plus the green light to play in any league you want on the planet, coupled with a much safer environment to live in make Kolpak deals a perennial threat. And De Villiers has set an example to other South African cricketers by giving up on international cricket and becoming a mercenary cricketer who plays all year round.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if South Africa continues to produce world-class cricketers, only for England and T20 leagues to scoop up the best and leave the Proteas side scampering to put together a decent side at the international arena. Success at the World Cup would not have reversed that trend but their disastrous campaign has certainly pushed them closer to the wilderness.