Egoistic England batting line-up has forgotten the art of attrition chasing

90 mph. Zinger of a yorker. Bowled. Ben Stokes let go of his bat as English hopes of a miraculous chase dissipated.

The manner of that dismissal, and Stokes’ reaction thereafter, told a story. He had expected that yorker; after all, it is Mitchell Starc’s go-to delivery. In the back of his mind, maybe he had even prepared to fend it off – the bat coming down straight to block was an automatic reaction.

But this is where difference between thinking and action comes forth. Stokes couldn’t beat that searing pace, or the pinpoint accuracy, despite perhaps knowing that yorker was coming all along. ALSO READ: Everything is in England’s control, insists Eoin Morgan after second straight loss

In a sense, this short passage of play was a microcosm of the entire English batting failure at Lord’s on Tuesday. James Vince knew he was short on confidence – was there fear of failure reflecting in his footwork as Jason Behrendorff sneaker an inswinger through the gate? ALSO READ: England fluff their lines, Australia ace theirs in dangerous warning to semi-final opponents

Perhaps Joe Root knew the law of averages was catching up after superlative form earlier in the tournament. Eoin Morgan knew this wasn’t an Afghanistan attack, and that he certainly wasn’t going to hit 17 sixes on this occasion. Jonny Bairtsow knew need of the hour was building a partnership, yet he chased a wide delivery and holed out. Jos Buttler knew Usman Khawaja had taken an exceptional catch to dash his hopes of heroism. ALSO WATCH: Australia outplayed England at Lord’s to reach semifinals

Did Stokes showcase some frustration as well before commencing the long walk back to the pavilion?

Twice in two matches, English batting has collapsed even as he held anchor and tried to work out a miracle. He has had almost no support from the other batsmen as this much-hailed line-up has failed to chase sub-300 scores in consecutive innings. Add to it, failure to chase Pakistan’s … and the resultant is three defeats in seven matches – the wheels are starting to come off England’s World Cup campaign.

The devil is in detail, though. Check those two innings against Sri Lanka and Australia – Stokes scored 82 not out and 89. The next best score is Root’s 57. Only one other batsman crossed 20 against Sri Lanka. No batsman, apart from Stokes, crossed 30 against Australia. ALSO READ: England lose by 64 runs as Aaron Finch, Jason Behrendorff, Mitchell Starc fire Australia to semifinals

It underlines a potential problem for England, something that has gone amiss in their fascination to change the way they played ODI cricket. Let us be honest – in the last four years, this batting line-up has reinvented this format’s pace. They have scored 300s with ease, crossed 350s to break new ground, notched up 400s for fun, and then touched a new ceiling with two 440-plus scores. They rewrote rules of what ODI score can be considered par in this T20 era.

That last bit – this T20 era – quite crucial. If you push the scoring scales towards a higher limit, then the opposite end needs to be compensated in a similar manner. Earlier, when 280-300 was considered par, at times batting line-ups would fail in 120-150 chases. These are mediocre targets, but present an exceptional challenge – it gives the bowling attack a nudge and they come hard at you. A few early wickets, and you are never in the game thereafter, and building the innings assumes a new outlook altogether.

Fast forward to the present scenario, and 300-plus scores have become par in modern-day ODI cricket. What is a mediocre target now? Yes, 233 that Lanka put up last week and 286 that Australia did on Tuesday. However, in their adventurous bid to push the scoring scales ever higher, this English line-up forgot the golden art of attrition. They became so pre-occupied with scoring 300s, 350s and 400s, that they forgot how to score 200s, 220s and 280s.

It is one thing to be able to score 20 runs off seven balls, but when the situation demands, knowing how to score seven runs off 20 is equally vital. Look back at Leeds – Ali had just hit a six and then he launched aerially again in a bid to get another, and only ended up holing out. What was the need?

When it is an aforementioned mediocre chase, six runs an over are golden, but Ali has bought into a specific English strategy of getting more than is on offer. It cost them the game, and in a similar fashion to how Bairstow got out, looking to find a maximum when none existed, nor the situation demanded.

“I think our basics get challenged a lot more when we don’t play on batter-friendly wickets; when you probably have to rotate the strike a lot more, as opposed to find the boundary more often than not,” said skipper Eoin Morgan after the loss.

In that light, English batsman need to take a leaf out of David Warner’s book. He has adapted to difference in conditions during this tournament by taking a step back from his usual attacking approach. Along with Aaron Finch, he has formed the most potent opening pairing in the tournament, and it is because they look to bat time every time at the crease.

Thanks to this hapless batting display, England will think it was the Australian bowling that hurt them. Instead, it was also the Warner-Finch partnership, and not paying enough attention to the manner they batted. The hosts asserted that there was nothing wrong with their short-ball plan, but the result says otherwise.

Maybe it is hubris, of playing a World Cup at home, that too after staking claims of redefining ODI batting. None is a greater teacher than this game though, and the need to win both remaining matches against India and New Zealand should be a much-needed jolt to England’s ego.