England need to get past ‘Silvers’ to keep alive hopes of World Cup gold
After three defeats in their opening four fixtures, the world champions are flirting with inglorious elimination.
They haven’t just lost; they’ve been hammered and humiliated, losing by nine wickets against New Zealand, by 69 runs against Afghanistan and, most recently, by 229 runs against South Africa, the heaviest defeat in their one-day international history.
Now, lying in wait at this crisis point in their fortunes, like a speed camera behind a bush, is none other than Chris Silverwood, the former Yorkshire and England fast bowler and ex-England coach, who could effectively send the old country packing – some 20 months after it sent him packing following the disastrous 2021-22 Ashes tour.
Silverwood’s side lost 4-0 Down Under, bringing to an end a challenging reign that was the meat in the sandwich between the World Cup triumph of 2019 and the Bazball era.
Throw in a global pandemic and the burdensome task of coaching across the three formats, with responsibility for selection, a situation that no longer prevails, and Silverwood was handed what some believed was an impossible task.
All of which adds edge to a crunch encounter – as does the fact that Silverwood’s Sri Lanka have an identical record to England, with three defeats from four, albeit with a slightly superior net run-rate.
So, it is a must-win game for them too – why, there promises to be more jeopardy at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium than you could shake a copy of The Yorkshire Post at.
On the face of it, and despite their horrible start to the competition, enough to astound a posse of pessimists, it’s a match that England should win at a traditionally high-scoring ground.
The key question is whether, battered and bruised as they are, they can summon the necessary morale and confidence to get the desired result.
Although it may prove possible on this occasion, whether they could go on to replicate such form against India on Sunday, followed by fixtures against Australia, Netherlands and Pakistan, is another matter.
At present, one might only back England to beat the Dutch out of that last quartet of games, although others may not even go that far, stunned by what they have witnessed to date.
Certainly the build-up to the Sri Lanka match has been anything but as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
In addition to the loss of broken finger victim Reece Topley, a luckless cricketer who seems destined to finish his career with more tattoos than international appearances, there has been the furore surrounding Joe Root’s reported opinion that more 50-over cricket needs to be played at the expense of the T20 Blast – but not at the expense of the Hundred, which is the very reason why the 50-over competition has been turned into a second-class event with the concurrent scheduling.
We have also had the far-from-ideal situation of Rob Key, the managing director of England men’s cricket, insisting that Ben Stokes still wants to play for his country despite having turned down a three-year central contract reportedly worth around £3m.
Amid the grubby nature of such stories per se – not to mention their complete irrelevance to the average person who isn’t having to scrape by on such pitiful sums in a cost-of-living crisis – the implied lack of commitment by one of their leading lights is the last thing that England need at this stage.
Player power has clearly gone too far – what happened to firm and decisive management? – and if players want to pursue franchise cricket at the expense of representing their country in the future, let them.
Indeed, as Brian Sellers, the former Yorkshire cricket chairman, observed after Ray Illingworth’s “contract-or-I’ll-leave” ultimatum in 1968: “Let him go, then, and he can take any other bugger who feels t’same way.”
The point will soon arrive, if it has not already, when players will have to choose between leaving what might be termed a lasting sporting legacy and simply ‘following the cash’. Or, to be accurate, even more cash, for they already earn eye-watering sums.
For, let’s face it, who is going to remember a three-times ILT20 winner, for example, against a three-times Ashes or World Cup winner? No one.
Such competitions – enjoyable though they are to the easily pleased, the sort who go into raptures at the mere sight of themselves on the big screen – are essentially meaningless and already ten-a-penny.
Ultimately, the England players out in India at present, all terrific players on their day, need to show that they are worth even a fraction of the money they are already paid.