Struggling England faces India in must-win 'away' home game
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — England can rely on playing its must-win game in front of the noisiest, most passionate, drum-banging, trumpet-blasting cricket fans in the land who will cheer every mistake by the opposition.
But the Cricket World Cup hosts will also have some supporters of their own in Birmingham.
India's so-called Bharat Army fans are expected to outnumber England's Barmy Army supporters in a Sunday sellout at the around 25,000-capacity Edgbaston in what will feel like a home game for India.
India, which has been dominant throughout the tournament apart from one close-call against winless Afghanistan, will join Australia in the semifinals with a win. It has 11 points from six games.
Fifth-place England has eight points from seven games and faces New Zealand in its last group match. Fourth-place Pakistan beat Afghanistan with two balls to spare Saturday and now leads England by a point but has played one more game.
England was ranked No. 1 at the start of the tournament and was the early title favorite. Eoin Morgan's team is not out of contention if it loses to India, but its fate will no longer be in its hands, and its dreams of a one-day international cricket revolution potentially over. Failure to advance by what was widely seen pre-tournament as the finest-ever England ODI team — skewing rivals with a surfeit of six-smacking skills — would be a hard blow to take.
And hard blows have been partly blamed for England's predicament so far with its super-aggressive approach — and alleged no Plan B — often wasting chances of taking singles and 2s, and innings-building in a more modest way. The team lacks the strategic finesse in one-day internationals that India has thanks to inspirational captain Virat Kohli.
Kohli, who has scored four straight half-centuries, had mixed feelings on England's struggles.
"We thought England would probably dominate in their own conditions but, as I said at the beginning of the tournament, pressure is going to be a factor," Kohli said. "I said that because I have played at two World Cups and all the teams are very strong. Anyone can beat anyone. We got a scare from Afghanistan, so you can't take anything for granted.
"The other teams have outplayed England on occasions and although we have not lost a game, we cannot be complacent."
Questions are again being asked about England's tournament temperament. It has the world record for the highest ODI score with 481-6, set in a 242-run win over below-strength Australia lineup last year. That total is 64 runs higher than the record World Cup score of 417-6 set by Australia against Afghanistan in 2015. But Australia is a five-time champion — and that's five more titles than England has.
India has put in more of a collective performance than England, as evidenced by not having a single player currently in the tournament's top five of most runs, highest score, most wickets and most dot balls.
England has Joe Root at No. 4 with 432 accumulated runs, Jason Roy and Morgan 2nd equal and 4th with individual innings scores of 153 and 148, Jofra Archer No. 2 with 16 and Mark Wood No. 5 with 13 on the list of most wickets, and Archer third on the list of most dot balls delivered (236). India has not lost a game, England has lost three.
"People have stepped up at different times, and we feel like we've given a total team performance — and that's purely because everyone's just looking to execute what they need to at that particular moment for the team," Kohli said.
Despite England's individual achievements, unease is starting to emerge. Batsman Jonny Bairstow reacted angrily to former England captain Michael Vaughan's criticism by claiming some people in England want the team to lose. Vaughan used social media to reply, saying "It's not the media's fault you have lost three games."
Morgan played a conciliatory line.
"Critics are there to be critical. We haven't performed well, so they are going to be critical. They're entitled to their own opinion," he said. "The support we've had from our fans and everybody around the country has been ... outstanding."
England opener Roy, who missed the games against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Australia with a hamstring injury, is hoping to play but the decision won't be taken until Sunday. Asked if England would field the heavy hitter even if it was a risk to Roy, Morgan said "If it was going to rule him out long term, absolutely not. If it was going to rule him out for a couple of weeks, yes."
Archer has a side problem and, Morgan said, "the exact same rule applies."
Conditions are set to be mostly dry and spin-friendly, more to India's advantage than England's. But the fresh wicket is reportedly to England's liking.
Much depends on the Indian bowling attack, including spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Mohammed Shami, who took a hat trick against Afghanistan in a surprisingly close game and a four-wicket haul against West Indies, could prove a selection quandary for India when Bhuvneshwar Kumar is fully fit.
"Bhuvi is recovering very fast," Kohli said. "When he gets fit, it will be headache for us. But we will take the best one for the team at that moment and everyone will understand."