Beleaguered and cornered England need a victory to keep their last-four hopes alive

Birmingham: Six months ago, if you had predicted that Australia — in complete disarray — would be the first team to qualify for the semifinals and that England — in supreme form — would be struggling to make it to the last four in their home World Cup, you probably would have been suggested to seek out a shrink.

Just over a month after the event, as teams scramble for knockouts, that’s exactly what has happened. With six wins from their first seven matches, Australia had secured their place in the semifinals even before they met Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand while England, following their third defeat to Ashes rivals at Lord’s on Tuesday, need a win against India in their penultimate league match here at the Edgbaston on Sunday to boost their chances. A defeat will seriously jeopardise their hopes.

England, perhaps, victims of their own hype. Even as their batsmen made merry on featherbeds of wickets, their bowling frailties were either ignored or masked. No one bothered if their batsmen would cope on pitches where bowlers had something in it for them. Their batsmen, who have reeled out 350-plus scores for fun in the last one year or so, have failed to two seemingly achievable targets against Sri Lanka and Australia, attracting all-round criticism.

The flak in the media and the general pessimism among the public, has begun to show cracks in the England set-up. Having accustomed to high praise in the run-up and during the World Cup, the Eoin Morgan-led side has begun to show its frustration in the face of backlash. They are blaming extraneous factors and unseen forces for the state of pitches that are exposing their batting limitations.

Jonny Bairstow, perhaps, took it too far by suggesting that the ICC could be the reason for kinds of pitches they have come up against in some of their matches that haven’t gone their way. The truth, however, is it’s the host nation that is responsible for preparation of pitches with ICC limiting itself to the advice that the “balance should be maintained in the contest between bat and ball.”

India, needing one more point to absolutely make sure of their progress, won’t be complaining about the manner in which England are unravelling. If anything, Virat Kohli gently rubbed it in by saying that there was no point in blaming the conditions.

“It is not my problem, to be honest,” said Kohli when asked about Bairstow’s criticism of pitches. “We didn’t come here with any kind of expectation of how the pitches are going to be. To be a good quality side, you need to adapt to the situation that is in front of you. It’s not a thing that I go in with a certain mindset and, if the pitch is not according to what I’m feeling, I’ll slog and get out. I think it’s about finding ways to win, finding ways to score runs,” he offered.

The Edgbaston pitch, going by its history, could be slow and assisting spinners – conditions that have pushed England to the brink.

In a desperate position to win the match, England will also be fretting over Jason Roy and Jofra Archer’s injuries. Morgan said they will take till Sunday morning to take a decision on their inclusion. A hamstring has sidelined Roy whose replacement opener James Vince hasn’t been among runs while Archer has been playing with his side strain.

India’s unbeaten run hasn’t been without its share of anxious moments. In two successive low-scoring matches against Afghanistan and West Indies, their middle-order has been put to stern test with the top three enduring mixed fortunes.

The bowling unit has come up well, outdoing their famed batsmen on more than one occasion and they will be a handful if the conditions are to their liking. With Indian supporters expected to outnumber the local crowd, Edgbaston is likely to be more Bengaluru than Birmingham.

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