THERE would seem about as much chance of England’s cricketers winning the Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh as there is of England’s footballers winning the World Cup in Brazil.
Optimism is in short supply as Ashley Giles’s and Roy Hodgson’s men prepare to do battle on the global stage.
So inconsistent have been England’s T20 performances – they have lost seven of their last nine games – you could be forgiven for concluding that Hodgson’s troops have the superior prospects.
Indeed, there have been times when a batting line-up consisting of Wayne Rooney and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could hardly have done much worse than that containing Luke Wright and Ben Stokes, such has been the wretched nature of recent displays.
Joking apart (and if you can’t laugh at England’s present predicament you would go round the bend), there is no reason to suppose that a winter that began with an Ashes tour from hell is suddenly going to become heavenly now, regardless of Thursday’s consolation win over West Indies in the third and final T20 in Barbados.
On the contrary, the tournament is far more likely to complete a monstrous few months in which egos have been pricked and expectations deflated.
England have never suffered a worse or more humiliating tour of Australia, where they lost 12-1 across the three formats.
Nor have they possessed a more underwhelming T20 side – one which could theoretically surprise a few people in Bangladesh, but which will more likely than not revert to type.
Sensing the prevailing doom and gloom, the bookmakers have made England the least-fancied of the eight principal nations who will contest the fifth T20 World Cup.
Below them in the bookies’ eyes sit only the eight qualifying nations, which might actually be doing a disservice to the likes of Hong Kong and Nepal, whose presence in the competition excites only their nearest and dearest or those disinclined to switch off the television.
Although Sri Lanka – coached by former Yorkshire second XI boss Paul Farbrace – are the world’s No. 1-ranked T20 team, most bookies fancy Australia to claim the title under ex-Yorkshire batsman Darren Lehmann.
Australia certainly have one of the best sides on paper, including the new Yorkshire batsman Aaron Finch, but the beauty of Twenty20 – if that is not a contradiction in terms – is that the format is unpredictable and that any team can flourish on their day: except, you suspect, England.
Indeed, former Yorkshire batsman Michael Vaughan encapsulated the difficulty in predicting a winner in the tournament which starts tomorrow.
“Any team from the following could win the T20 WC,” tweeted Vaughan. “India, Aussie, SA, West Indies, Sri Lanka and good outside chances in NZ and Pakistan.”
The former England captain went on: “I am going for India or West Indies. Both have power and plenty of good spin options.”
Which is precisely what England, in contrast, do not possess. There is no power-hitter like Chris Gayle, for example, or mystery spinner like Sunil Narine, both of whom give West Indies a realistic chance of defending their crown. Instead, England have the likes of Alex Hales and James Tredwell, and a paucity of spinners full stop – let alone those of the “mystery” variety.
Of course, it was not so long ago that Hales was ranked the world’s best T20 batsman, and how England need him to show his class now, with their stock and confidence at a very low ebb.
Indeed, as England have made a habit of losing early wickets in the game’s shortest form, which has consistently left them having to rebuild, they have become increasingly reliant on players such as Jos Buttler to bail them out of trouble, with the Hales-Michael Lumb partnership of 98 on Thursday the exception rather than the rule.
Preparations for Bangladesh have been further disrupted by injuries to Yorkshire’s Joe Root, who misses the competition with a broken right thumb, and captain Stuart Broad, who is battling a long-standing knee problem and may require an injection to get through.
Root’s absence is a blow not only in terms of his ability to improvise and to rotate the strike but also in his ability to bowl wicket-taking off-spin.
Spin will play the big role in Bangladesh, and England are as unconvincing when batting against spin as they themselves are bereft of spinners.
Of course, the spectre of one man hangs over this competition from an English perspective – Kevin Pietersen.
Controversially dumped after the Ashes tour, his non-presence is sure to dog the event.
Earlier this week, Ashley Giles, the England limited-overs coach, was forced into a predictable defence of the sacking.
Giles conceded that “until we turn this situation around at the top of the order, whoever the personnel might be, the issue is going to keep coming up”.
Giles’s future is also on the line as he seeks to strengthen his case to replace Andy Flower as team director.
In reality, he has little chance of enhancing his CV in Bangladesh and must hope the England hierarchy have already identified him as the right man to take the team forward.
Four years ago, England defied expectations by winning the World T20 in Barbados – their first ICC one-day trophy.
However, if they repeat the feat in Bangladesh, then perhaps Roy Hodgson’s men can follow suit by finding a way past the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez – but I wouldn’t hold your breath.