CAST your mind back a few weeks and no-one realistically gave England a chance of winning the World Cup, writes Chris Waters.
The best they could hope for, you felt, was to qualify for the quarter-finals and then, theoretically, they were just three good days from achieving the improbable.
Indeed, the competition is so structured that it was almost impossible for England not to reach the last eight.
The top-four sides in the two seven-strong groups contest the quarter-finals, and England’s group contained three minnows in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland.
Although England made suitably light work of Afghanistan and Scotland, they were embarrassingly turned over by Bangladesh.
The big three in their pool –Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka – all administered shellackings that not only knocked the stuffing out of England but also shattered their fragile confidence.
Had England advanced, they would have done so more by default than because they deserved it, and they would have been likely fodder for the leading nations in the knockout stages.
England proved to be not so much dark horses, in fact, as a horse with no hope of completing the course and upsetting the form book.
However, what really sticks in the craw of all who have followed their progress – or lack of it – is that they failed to do the one thing they had to do give themselves a chance.
Namely, to have a go and play without fear.
Everyone knew that England, man for man, do not have the firepower of such as co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, and that if they were to beat such sides and make an impact they had to play in free-spirited fashion.
Instead, frozen by fear and seemingly scared of their shadows, they played like a team wading through thick fog while the leading sides played a sunlit brand of cricket that has been in a different stratosphere to England’s style.
Contrast, for example, the approach of England opener Ian Bell and that of New Zealand opener Brendon McCullum.
You might say the comparison is unfair and that they are different types of player, but whereas Bell pottered about and was content, for the most part, to tick along steadily, McCullum has not so much attacked the bowling as assaulted it from the outset.
The mindset is miles apart, with England apparently oblivious to the fact that par totals have risen to 300 at least and often much more.
England, put simply, have not had a go – the minimum requirement expected by supporters.
As the inquests continue, many observers say that England have been overly-reliant on statistical analysis – ie what the backroom staff and iPads have told them to do.
There are too many backroom staff in cricket full-stop, a situation that does not encourage players to think for themselves, and although stats can be shackling we should not turn a deaf ear to the insistence of assistant coach Paul Farbrace that England have actually used less statistical analysis than they have in the past.
Farbrace, the former Yorkshire second team coach, said Sri Lanka employed far more statistical data when he led them to the World Twenty20 title last year.
When you consider the free-flowing talents in their side such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, that revelation cannot be conveniently ignored by those who are bashing England now.
So there must be other reasons, and perhaps the biggest is the England environment itself.
Is head coach Peter Moores getting the best from the players and is he the right man for the job?
The evidence of the World Cup and beforehand would suggest he is not.
How much influence Farbrace exerts is unclear, but he will know from personal experience how the relaxed, positive atmosphere created by Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, for instance, has helped transform a sleeping giant into one that is suddenly wide awake and winning trophies, with Yorkshire enjoying their cricket and playing with the type of positive aggression England are crying out for.
It is the underlying approach, perhaps, rather than the statistical analysis that is the main reason for England’s failure.
There are various other factors. Some of the tactics and selections have been poor – not to mention stubborn and inflexible – and there have been key managerial blunders.
Perhaps the biggest was persisting with Alastair Cook as captain in the face of overwhelming evidence that he was not the right man, which plunged England into chaos just weeks before the tournament and saw him replaced in the role by Eoin Morgan, who has looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Alex Hales was not picked until it was too late, Gary Ballance was played out of position, Jos Buttler was often used too far down the order to properly influence proceedings, and so on.
The likes of Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid were left out of the squad entirely and there was not much sign of creative invention, typified by a monochrome bowling attack.
The bottom line is, we do not have the truly great players that some teams possess.
We do not have a Sangakkara, a McCullum, a deVilliers or a Starc.
We haven’t got the perfect structure in county cricket, the quality of pitches here likely to produce the very best standards, the exposure of our players to some of the best T20 cricket in the world or an English Premier League, all of which could help encourage a more explosive style.
But what we do have is some very good players with the potential to do a darn sight better than we have seen at the World Cup.
We need to identify them, back them and look to attack.