CHENNAI: It started as a bright sunny day in Hamilton in March 2022. Playing their first-ever Women's World Cup, Bangladesh had sent Pakistan packing in a thriller. Even before fans could recover from that last-over finish, South Africa had handed the defending champions England their third straight defeat of the tournament. England were gasping for air as they had to win every match to defend their title or at least get the opportunity to do it in the final.
A year on, the England men's team, another defending champions themselves, is in a similar situation in the ongoing ODI World Cup. And they could take inspiration from the Heather Knight-led side that ended up having a complete turnaround to reach the final.
In 2022, what made England's campaign even more hard was the series before the World Cup, where they failed to win a single match. In the Women's Ashes series, played in all three formats, England couldn't beat Australia in any of the games. In ODIs, the gap between the top two sides looked wider than before. And they were set to face the same side in their World Cup opener.
England's campaign started on a hopeful note when they came close to chasing down Australia's 310, after not coming close to the no. 1 ranked side in the Women's Ashes. In the second match of their campaign, West Indies pulled a rabbit out of a hat to defend the total of 225. Against South Africa, England had no answers to Marizanne Kapp's pace with the ball and Laura Wolvaardt's calmness with the bat. After three matches, England had zero points on the board. The campaign was all but over. Captain Knight and coach Lisa Keightley needed a miracle.
"As the coach, I take a huge amount of responsibility. It's up to me to drive the team and get the wins on the board. We came into this World Cup to play better than we have and we haven't and it's been frustrating. It would be great to come out and bounce back against India," coach Keightley had said. And they did manage to put a win on the board. They held catches, fielded exceptionally well and closed down the match. Two points were on the board. They could breathe a little.
"It's been a tricky tour, but we came into this game knowing that we needed to win our next four games to give us a chance. We will celebrate the win and then it's about getting to Auckland and turning our focus to the New Zealand game," Anya Shrubsole, who took her 100th wicket in the format that day kept emotions in check, while also looking forward to the next challenge.
Shrubsole's pledge to keep the laser-sharp focus, couldn't have come at the best time as she scored winning runs against New Zealand in Auckland, as England got their one miracle of the tournament. Slowly, England crawled back into the tournament. They took their chances, kept their belief and got themselves in the position where they could think about the bigger picture. Two big-margin wins against Pakistan and Bangladesh meant England finished their group stage with four wins out of seven matches, ready to face South Africa in the semi-final.
England found their perfect match in the semi-final at Christchurch. Dani Wyatt smashed her first World Cup century, while Sophie Ecclestone bagged six wickets to take England to the final against a familiar foe in Australia. Within five fixtures England went from gasping for air to riding the hot air balloon. The turnaround was inspired by the captain, coach, and some extraordinary individual performances.
The captain and the coach who took responsibility for the losses deserved the due credit for turning things around and keeping the belief in the team. Unfortunately for them, England went down against Australia in the final, but not without a fighting century from Natalie Scriver-Brunt.
For the Jos Buttler-led England side, reaching the final looks like a distant dream. The defending champions kicked off the campaign with a loss against New Zealand. Despite the win against Bangladesh, they faced the biggest upset of the tournament against Afghanistan. And then, they fell off the cliff against South Africa in Mumbai. Another harrowing defeat against Sri Lanka followed in Bengaluru. The end result — England are officially at the bottom of the points table.
As they get ready for the clash against India in Lucknow on Sunday, there are a number of permutations and combinations that have to fall in place for them to even have a chance at making the knockouts. But to get there, their first step should be beating India, like the women did in 2022, and get back to winning ways.
Taking on Rohit Sharma & Co. will not be an easy task for the Matthew Mott-coached side. However, Mott knows a thing or two about winning trophies and he was there in New Zealand watching the England women rise from the bottom and dominate the second half of the World Cup.
Maybe there is a little hope left for England, but there is still that hope. One of the teams donning three lions has already performed that miracle. Maybe it's time for the other one to do the same.
After all, it's about defending the title