Ben Stokes bluntly stated on the eve of England’s clash with Australia in the Cricket World Cup that the team have been “crap”, but there is still a slim chance to restore some pride against the team who have laughed loudest at their misfortune.
At the end of October, Pat Cummins could barely suppress his laughter when asked about England’s difficulties at the tournament, but old passions will be reunited when the sides meet in Ahmedabad.
Having won just one of their opening six matches, England have nothing but pride to play for against Cummins’ side, but the discussions and media attention on the Ashes series in the summer have not yet faded into the background.
Australians have made fun of claims over a ‘moral Ashes’, and Marnus Labuschagne ridiculed the “garbage” decision by the Collins English Dictionary to add ‘Bazball’ as one of its words for 2023.
When England play Australia there is always more at stake than just the result on the pitch, outside of India and Pakistan it is one of the biggest rivalries in the sport, and if there is one opportunity for Jos Buttler’s men to salvage anything from the tournament, they have to show up on Saturday in Ahmedabad.
A place in the 2025 Champions Trophy is at stake, with only the top eight qualifying, but that may not matter as much as not succumbing to yet another crushing defeat – this time against Australia.
“We’ve had a disastrous World Cup and there’s no point sugarcoating that because it’s the truth,” Stokes said.
“But we know these last three games, for us, we’ve got a lot to play for. I think the biggest thing that we’ve got to play for is obviously the pride of what it is to put the three lines on your chest, walking out onto the field every time is a very special occasion and something that we value very highly.
“So, yeah, I know there’ll be a lot of noise around England, Australia in the next game, but regardless of who we play against the feeling of putting that shirt on is something that we take very seriously.”
In order to even compete against Australia, England will have to force a drastic change in fortunes. Buttler’s men crashed to yet another catastrophic defeat against India in the previous game, to lose by 100 runs.
Questions were raised over the leadership, by both the captain and head coach Matthew Mott, who did not help himself when he openly admitted after the India clash that he had only learned an hour and a half previously what would be required for the Champions Trophy qualification.
Even Stokes did not seem to hold any answers: “To be honest with you, we’ve been crap.
“Everything we’ve tried throughout this World Cup, through trying to put pressure back onto the opposition in a way in which we know or trying to soak up the pressure in a different way, which we know we’ve done before and been successful with, it’s just not worked.
“If we knew what had gone wrong, we would have been able to fix it. But unfortunately, we don’t. It’s just been one of those tournaments where, yeah, it’s just been a disaster. And there’s no point sugarcoating it.”
Stokes announced he will undergo surgery following the tournament, to try and solve a left knee issue that has plagued him and England for the last 18 months at least, and forced him to play solely as a batter, which has affected the balance of the side at the Cricket World Cup.
But none of the fault can rest on any one player, it has been a complete collective failure to perform, and an inability to do so against Australia will see the side truly hit rock bottom.