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England T20 World Cup defence on the brink after heavy defeat to Australia
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England T20 World Cup defence on the brink after heavy defeat to Australia

It was supposed to be a game of relatively little consequence, the Ashes rivalry laid on for the sake of the broadcasters amid an expectation that England and Australia would sweep aside the associate teams in Group B. As the two seeds, they would swan into predetermined slots in the Super Eight stage.

But by following Tuesday’s washout against Scotland with a heavy 36-run defeat to their oldest rivals in sweltering Bridgetown, Jos Buttler’s defending champions have been plunged into a world of net run-rate calculations and weather forecasts when they meet Oman and Namibia in Antigua over the next week. Even dispensing with those two by heavy margins may not be enough.

Australia, already a victory over Oman to the good before this one, will be chuckling at the predicament that England now find themselves in. Making 201 for seven after being stuck in – the highest total of the tournament to date – Mitch Marsh and his side then slammed the brakes on England to restrict them to 165 for six. Pat Cummins, returning to the side, sent down a masterful two for 23 from four overs, while Adam Zampa spun his way to two for 28.

It was a classic shutdown against an England side that, beyond Buttler (42 from 28) and Phil Salt (37 from 23) up top, looked short on time in the middle and feeling the pressure overall. Jonny Bairstow had a particularly poor game, a shoddy outing in the field followed by scratching out seven from 13 balls. Having arrived at 92 for two in the 10th over – thus needing the same 109 in 10 England claimed they could have chased against Scotland – this was an opportunity missed.

Although in truth, England were always behind in this one after David Warner (39 from 16) and Travis Head (34 from 18) ransacked 70 runs inside the first five overs. This lively start certainly underlined the difficulty of bowling from the Malcolm Marshall End, with a short off-side boundary – around 60 metres – and a strong cross-wind blowing into it. Spectators in the Greenidge and Haynes Stand were very much in the game here.

David WarnerView image in fullscreen

Those conditions also made it all the more baffling that, after a tight first over from Moeen Ali, Buttler asked the far less experienced off-spinner, Will Jacks, to share the new ball and defend that trickier end. His more loopy fare was utterly manhandled for 22 runs – solar panels on the roof of the stand smashed along the way – with this figure then repeated when Buttler instantly swapped him out for the pace of Mark Wood and saw three more sixes soar.

Buttler claimed afterwards that Jacks was a call based on “gut feel” – not data – but it set the tone for a scrappy time in the field. The captain also spent so much time running from wicketkeeper to speak to his bowlers that he was penalised for slow play, Chris Jordan forced to bowl the 20th over with only three men outside the circle. Jofra Archer returning one for 28 from four overs – Head bowled by a slower ball after Moeen had castled Warner – felt a triumph in the circumstances.

But Australia’s middle order had plenty of breathing room after that breakneck start, regular wickets scarcely proving to be setbacks as they crashed all but three of their 14 sixes with the wind. That said, Glenn Maxwell, who struggled for rhythm in a 25-ball 28, delivered one outrageous, deliberately sliced six into it. He always was a player to take things in a different direction.

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Zampa is another and after Salt and Buttler threw some early counterpunches at the seamers, the leg-spinner’s dual removal of both openers triggered the asphyxiation that followed. The first was a fine piece of bowling, Zampa firing in a quick, flat delivery first up to castle Salt. Buttler, slightly penned in, then perished attempting to reverse sweep him over backward point.

Thereafter only Moeen managed to truly swing freely, his 15-ball 25 the only pushback as Cummins and Josh Hazlewood bowled smartly to the ground’s dimensions. When the latter had Bairstow caught trying to thrash his way out of the funk it was in effect over. England, desperate to change the tune after that bleak 50-over World Cup last winter, are once again in a bit of strife.

Source: theguardian.com