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Jos Buttler could only look on from behind the stumps as England’s World Cup dreams lay in tatters around him on the turf in Bangalore following his side’s eight-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka.
All the fighting talk, all the tinkering and changes, the whispers before the tournament of defending the title. Any lingering hope of qualification became all but mathematically impossible after England slid to their fourth defeat from their opening five matches.
In the future, this may become a World Cup to be forgotten – as was the case in 2015, which led to the famous “white-ball reset” and four years later the title – but, in the immediate aftermath, there are questions to be answered.
After the record-breaking defeat at the hands of the Proteas, both Buttler and head coach Matthew Mott spoke passionately, explaining that the side knew what they had to do – win every group game – and that’s what they intended to do.
But against Sri Lanka, in a match many expected would see the team regain some of their lost pride, it became yet another performance to forget from this World Cup.
Reflecting on the defeat in the immediate aftermath, even Buttler could not pinpoint what exactly has happened this tournament, saying: “You don’t become a bad player overnight, you don’t become a bad team overnight.
“I think that’s been the biggest frustration, that we’ve fallen so far short of the standards that we set ourselves and for no particular reason.
“You must think there should be something obvious but I can’t put my finger on it at the moment.”
While the loss to South Africa can be pinned on the decision to field first, against Sri Lanka, when they chose to bat first, England simply did not score enough runs.
The total of 156 was never going to be defendable, let alone against a side who had scored almost 350 in a losing cause against Pakistan earlier in the tournament, and England never got going.
England’s confusing selection had continued when they dropped rising star Harry Brook, leaving them a side where every player was over 30. Having made three changes for the previous game, Buttler and Mott made three again, returning to packing the side with all-rounders in Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone and Chris Woakes. But they batted every bit like a side long past their peak.
Ben Stokes, as he so often does, offered a brief resistance with bat in hand, top-scoring with 43, but it was not enough, and their meagre total was never likely to be enough to be in contention on the fast-scoring pitch.
On the face of it, Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Stokes and Joe Root are up there with some of England’s greatest-ever white ball batters. But none of them have been able to find the form that guided the team to the trophy in 2019.
Ali spoke ahead of the match about playing with freedom and laying it all out there. But all that was left at the end of the England innings were the hilarity of a lazy run out that brought the end of Adil Rashid’s innings, several badly timed shots and poor decision-making that will make for a glum highlights reel.
Sri Lanka, to their credit, bowled exceptionally. Lahiru Kumara was especially problematic as he claimed three wickets for 35 runs. They kept the pressure on England and did not relent, before following it up with a batting innings that was just what the situation called for. It was not risk-taking, but the bad balls were dispatched as Pathum Nissanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama scored 77 and 65 respectively to see their side over the line.
There was nowhere to hide on the field for England, and no one to take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag them back into it – barring two early wickets from David Willey. But from then it was just too easy for Sri Lanka.
England will have to improve. They cannot just meekly fade away into the background, least of all because they have two big games to come against India and Australia. Another humiliation must be avoided at all costs.