It’s hanging by a thread now. The best and probably last chance England will ever have of finally breaking their 50-over World Cup duck is rushing agonisingly away from them.
This was a seismic blow to the tournament favourites and No1 ranked one-day side in the world. Not quite the day their dream died but one that has left them needing to win every remaining game if they are to have a chance of averting one of the most crushing blows in even their cock-up laden history.
And, of course, it had to be Australia who inflicted the third and most damaging defeat of this tournament on Eoin Morgan’s side at a stunned Lord’s. It had to be an old enemy England have defeated in 10 of their last 11 one-day matches.
Aaron Finch’s Australia side have progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup
Mitchell Starc got the all-important wicket of Ben Stokes as Australia won by 64 runs
Ben Stokes kicks his bat in frustration after being clean bowled by Australian seamer Starc
Jason Behrendorff posted brilliant figures of five wickets for just 44 runs at Lord’s on Tuesday
Not, though, when it most mattered. Not when the World Cup was on the line and the pressure was at its most intense. This proved a very different story.
That pressure, Morgan insisted, was not getting to his side even when they crumbled to the shock defeats against Pakistan and Sri Lanka that have cost them so dear.
Yet clearly the weight of expectations England vowed they would cope with ahead of a tournament they have spent four years planning for has got to them. How else to explain this 64-run defeat by an Australian team who really do know how to win the big games?
Only when Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were together did England look anything like capable of chasing Australia’s par score of 285 for seven that looked like being so much more when they were poised for lift-off on 162 for one after 30 overs.
But when Buttler, who has been routinely destroying bowlers for the last four years, holed out to the weakest link in the Australian attack in Marcus Stoinis after a stand of 71 for the fifth wicket England’s goose was well and truly cooked.
Only the defiant figure of Stokes should be absolved of any blame. He battled not only the Australian attack but stiffness in both calves and it took a superb trademark yorker from Mitchell Starc to end his 89 off 115 balls and extinguish any hope England had.
Stokes held England’s innings together for a while following a haul of early England wickets
Glenn Maxwell produced a brilliant moment in the midfield to dismiss Chris Woakes
Maxwell throws the ball back to Finch to catch to deny Woakes from a six near the death
Now their fate, barely believably, is out of their hands as not even victories in their remaining group games against the might of India and New Zealand will be enough if Pakistan win their last three matches, starting against the Kiwis today. And as Pakistan then face Bangladesh and Afghanistan it is well within the realms of possibility.
This was England’s best chance of finally winning a global 50-over event because they have built the greatest limited-overs side they have ever put together and are hosting an event they have prioritised ever since the last World Cup debacle.
And it is probably their last chance because the ECB, in their wisdom, are marginalising 50-over cricket after this tournament in favour of Twenty20 and their own new creation the Hundred just when the rest of the world are relishing the longer format.
So what an opportunity England are in the process of wasting. What regrets they will have if they are unable to rescue this dire situation and somehow sneak into the top four.
England even had the advantage of winning what should have been an important toss yesterday and were handed perfect conditions in which to get among the Australians.
England lost four early wickets to get off to the worst start possible against their historic rivals
James Vince walks back to the pavilion after going for a duck in just the second ball of innings
Instead, even though the ball was doing plenty, Aaron Finch and David Warner were able to build a perfect platform of 123 for the first wicket, the Australian captain going on to his seventh one-day hundred against England.
Okay, England did not have much luck and Finch survived a mightily close lbw shout from Chris Woakes on 18, but the bottom line is they bowled too short far too often. They were poor in the field against Pakistan, with the bat against Sri Lanka and now the ball.
It looked as though Australia would bat England out of the game but they contrived to finish well short of where they should have been even though they hit 22 off the last two overs, Woakes emerging with two wickets and the most English credit.
England simply had to get off to a good start to conquer any nerves but James Vince again was unable to provide it, falling neck and crop second ball to a basic bit of inswing from an unlikely destroyer in Jason Behrendorff that had been telegraphed first delivery.
It felt significant when Jason Roy tore a hamstring against West Indies and his absence has been magnified by the self-inflicted blow of losing the perfect opening stand-in in Alex Hales. Vince, sadly, is not up to it temperamentally and England must abandon any thoughts they may have had of including him in this summer’s Ashes.
Finch led by example, recording a century to give England a difficult total of 285 to chase
David Warner came back to haunt England by posting 53 runs on Tuesday in London
It got worse. Joe Root was palpably lbw to the rampaging Starc before Morgan and Jonny Bairstow attempted two woeful pull shots that led to their demise. Buttler and then mainly Stokes delayed an inevitable defeat that came with 32 balls to spare, Behrendorff finishing with a five-wicket haul he is unlikely to ever repeat.
What a miserable day for England and what a triumphant one for an Australian side who have dragged themselves out of the gutter created by Sandpaper-gate to become contenders for a sixth World Cup title.
There were pantomime boos aplenty for Warner and, in particular, Steve Smith but in truth England supporters should reserve any disquiet they feel for their own side. All three of their defeats have come when they have chased and that used to be their strength. Instead where once they were near invincible here they have choked.
It is not quite all over yet but it will take something brilliant for England to get out of jail now. And they just do not look like providing it at the moment.
It was a frustrating afternoon for England’s seamers, who failed to pick up an early wicket