England’s World Cup flops get the job done against dismal Dutch
England have won a game of cricket. I repeat, England have won a game of cricket.
This remarkable development occurred on November 8, 2023, in the city of Pune in western India.
Those who were present could not quite believe it.
Those who were not there doubted the news.
But there it is, in black and white on any scorecard you wish to consult.
England beat the Netherlands by 160 runs, scoring 339-9 from their 50 overs before dismissing their opponents for 179 with 12.4 overs of the contest left.
And so Jos Buttler and his men, battered and bruised after five torrid weeks, halted a run of five straight defeats - and six defeats in seven - with just their second victory at this World Cup.
The other - which feels so long ago now that the highlights are probably only available on VHS - came against Bangladesh.
Not much of a return, is it, for the defending champions – wins against the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
If they beat Pakistan in their final game in Kolkata on Saturday, at least England can say that they beat a half-decent side, with Pakistan ranked fourth in the world, Bangladesh eighth and the Netherlands way back in 14th place.
In truth, the Netherlands looked every inch a team with 13 others above them in the rankings against an England outfit devoid of confidence.
How the Dutch managed to beat South Africa earlier in the competition is a mystery, the same South Africa now through to the semi-finals.
England – who moved up three places from bottom of the table to seventh with this victory – were predictably too strong and this time got the job done, preserving their hopes of qualifying for the Champions Trophy in 2025 (the top-eight in the World Cup group table will take part in that competition in Pakistan).
Still, they might have made a hash of it had the Dutch not dropped a key chance in the field after England chose to bat on a good surface, a blunder that allowed Ben Stokes to go on to a match-winning hundred.
The score was 204-6 in the 39th over - England having fallen from 133-1 to 192-6 in familiarly worrying style - when Stokes, having moved patiently to 41 from 51 balls, lofted pace bowler Logan van Beek out to long-leg.
Aryan Dutt, running in from the boundary, got his hands underneath the ball only for it to slip from his grasp - not the easiest opportunity but one that should be taken at the highest level.
It came in the formative stages of a seventh-wicket stand of 129 between Stokes and Chris Woakes from just 81 balls in a bedraggled finish to the innings from a Dutch perspective - one even worse than their bedraggled start to the match, when they allowed England to get off to a flyer (70-1 off 10 overs, then 132-1 off 20) with a succession of freebies that were gratefully put away.
The last six overs of the innings, especially, were a horror show, with 93 coming off them as Stokes took full advantage - at least when he was actually able to reach the ball, with the Dutch also guilty of bowling 20 wides in a village-green display.
When he skied to long-off with three balls of the innings remaining, having struck 108 from 84 balls with six sixes and six fours, Stokes had put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt, building on some good work first up from Dawid Malan (87 from 74 balls) and then Woakes (51 from 45 deliveries).
Only a mix-up with Stokes denied Malan the probability of a hundred also, the Yorkshire player sent back after pushing spinner Dutt into the covers, a sad way to go.
Van Beek, in particular, had a day to forget, conceding 88 from his 10 overs and bowling 10 wides. Later, he dollied up a simple catch off Adil Rashid in the midst of a dire Dutch collapse.
So dismal was van Beek’s day that he probably returned to his hotel room to find that his bed had not been made up, the shower gel not replaced and the previous night’s room service not cleared away. Moreover, housekeeping had probably clocked off for the night.
The run-chase - if it could so be termed - was a shambles. Early wickets in the face of good bowling from Woakes and David Willey left the Netherlands uncertain whether to stick or twist, so they did neither, just ambling along to nowhere in particular, like Compo, Clegg and Foggy wandering around Holmfirth.
A few blows were biffed by the middle-order, Teja Nidamanuru striking three sixes on his way to the top score of 41 not out from 34 balls.
But an implosion from 163-5 to 179 all-out in less than four overs said everything, Rashid and Moeen Ali each taking three wickets.
Not that England cared as they celebrated victory.
Victory, you say?
Shome mishtake, shurely.