T20 World Cup: England title hopes in jeopardy but 2019 glory shows how to turn it around


England has been in that precipice before.

In 2019, group-stage defeats by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia left the pre-World Cup favorites looking on the sidelines before they cruised to the 50-over title on a sunny Sunday at Lord’s three weeks later.

This time they have just 48 hours to find their way, as a misstep against Australia on Friday will end their T20 World Cup dream after just seven days.

Things change quickly in sports.

After a convincing, if not perfect, victory in Afghanistan on Saturday, after key warm-up victories over Australia and a series victory over Pakistan, England were riding the momentum of a boulder pushed down a hill.

They became real contenders after a summer that saw them lose the Twenty20 series against India and South Africa.

But as pockets of Ireland supporters sang in the darkness of Melbourne on Wednesday, a five-run loss to their near neighbors confirmed by hand-waving as the rain fell, the England team no longer looked so formidable.

First-choice players run away. A streaky top order struggling for fluency. Ben Stokes looks like a man who has hardly played a T20 international in 18 months.

All subjects originating from England had to choose a group of convenience rather than being perfectly sculpted to take on the world.

Alex Hales, whose place is under threat after his third single-figure score in his last five innings in Australia, is opening because of Jason Roy’s form collapse and Jonny Bairstow’s mishap on the golf course.

Stokes would not have opened the bowling had it not been for injuries to Jofra Archer and Reece Topley, but that role means England cannot afford to drop the all-rounder, despite poor batting form at the number four slot.

Stokes’ struggles would be easier if number three Dawid Malan, who has been so dominant against Australia this month, was not now using the middle bat.

Ireland’s defeat is when the issues became apparent, but the signs were there even against Afghanistan when they reached 97-5 in their chase.

England have lifelines they can cling to.

While their line-up isn’t perfect, it’s full of match-winners, although the two batsmen who are seemingly in the best place, Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali, are struggling to sort out crises at the moment.

And thanks to the volatile nature of T20 cricket, the match-winning knock can easily be crushed by one of those who is currently out of form.

The status of Group 1 rivals is also important.

Australia’s headliners had beaten New Zealand in their World Cup opener and were reeling against Sri Lanka until Marcus Stoinis suddenly linked tree-trunk arms with Don Bradman’s eye.

Previous winners have run away – Australia were crushed by England a year ago in the United Arab Emirates and came back to win the title.

England won the World T20 title in 2010, despite losing to the West Indies in the group stage, and could have gone out if not for a flop against Ireland.

But mostly, Stokes, Buttler and many others in this England team have been here before.

Buttler has asked his team to collect those memories of 2019 to turn it around.

“There are a lot of experienced cricketers in our dressing room who would be set back at certain points in their careers, be it the 2019 World Cup, franchise tournament or international cricket ahead,” he said.

“So definitely guys who understand how to deal with emotions of great disappointment like today have to deal with it.

“It’s no use trying to hide from your feelings.

“You have to deal with them very quickly, get over them and look forward to the Australia game.”

A crowd of over 70,000 is expected on Friday. The Melbourne Cricket Ground witnessed one of its biggest nights last Saturday when India beat Pakistan in a roaring atmosphere generated by over 90,000 fans.

This will be another opportunity to remember.

If England were to lose and go out before the semi-finals, it would mean that the popular white-ball side have won just one trophy in three attempts in four years.

It would feel like a waste.

Crucially, though, England aren’t done yet.

Ireland’s defeat leaves them looking over the edge, but all hope is not lost.