Defending dreams stay alive: England live to fight another day

After a roller-coaster group stage, Buttler & Co. have qualified for Super 8, but will have their task cut out from here.
England's captain Jos Buttler, second left, celebrates with teammates winning an ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match against Namibia at Siv Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda, Saturday, June 15, 2024.
England's captain Jos Buttler, second left, celebrates with teammates winning an ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match against Namibia at Siv Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda, Saturday, June 15, 2024.Photo AP

CHENNAI: It was about 3.15 PM at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, on Saturday. After almost three hours since the scheduled start of their final group game against Namibia, anxiety had crept into the England dressing room.

Understandably so. A lot was at stake for the defending champions. Not only did they need a win, they also needed Australia to beat Scotland in St. Lucia later in the evening. Such was the dire situation in Antigua that Cricket Scotland had taken to X (formerly known as Twitter) with a sarcastic post about the clear weather in St. Lucia. After all, a washout in Antigua would have meant Scotland would go through to the Super 8, irrespective of their result against Australia.

But eventually, the skies paved the way in Antigua. The match that was supposed to start at 12.30 PM was scheduled to begin at 4 PM and the number of overs per side had been reduced to 11. While Namibia had nothing to lose, they had a point to prove. They wanted to finish off on a high, spoiling England's party along the way.

For Jos Buttler and his team, it didn't matter what the number of overs or margin of difference was. All they needed was two points from the game and then pray to every god known that Josh Hazlewood was kidding about eliminating England. After all, until Thursday, England did not even think that they could come this close.

So, the first act was to put a score on board after Gerhard Erasmus asked them to bat. The intent was there to see from ball one, as was the case when they chased down 48 runs against Oman in 3.1 overs. Buttler got out going for a big shot, and so did Phil Salt, but this time, their crisis man came to the party—Jonny Bairstow. Promoted to No. 3, Bairstow found his touch very early. He stood back and launched David Wiese before reverse-sweeping and tonking Bernard Scholtz. With Harry Brook joining the party, England got going, racing to 69/2 in seven overs.

Bairstow fell against the run of play and the clouds opened up, once again leaving England anxious. The play was stopped for almost ten minutes and as a result, an over was lost. When they came back, Brook, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone doubled down. They scored 34 runs in the last nine balls, posting 122/5 in ten overs.

With the ball, though, England were clinical, defending a revised target of 126. Namibia could manage only 84/3, falling short by 41 runs (DLS). Buttler and Brook, who scored an unbeaten 47 in 20 balls, were relieved, but the drama was not over for the night. So much so that Buttler admitted that he would be a fan of their arch-rivals Australia for just one night.

Bairstow also echoed the sentiments after England's win. "I'm sure we'll be keeping an eye on it for sure but at the same time, there's not much we can do about what happens over there. We've done everything that's in our hands. We've overcome that net run rate and we've overcome the challenges that have been put in front of us. That Australia game was a tough game, but the way that we've responded as a group, we've accepted the challenge that's been put in front of us, and we've responded very well to that," Bairstow said.

However, the contest in St Lucia did not end up being a straightforward match either. Riding on Brandon McMullen (60) and Richie Berrington (42 n.o), Scotland had cruised to 149/4 after 16 overs. In the last four, they could only manage 31 runs, leaving Australia 181 to chase. That Australia dropped multiple catches would have left England all the more fuming. Things only got worse for England, with Australia stuttering at 92/3 in 13 overs. It was around quarter past 11, as England had already been through a nervous 12 hours on Saturday.

Just when it looked like their worst fears would come true — an early group exit for defending champions, as it was the case during the ODI WC too—Travis Head (68) and Marcus Stoinis (59) turned the game on its head. Over the three overs, they smashed 53 runs, including a 24-run over against Safyaan Sharif. From thereon, it was only a matter of time as Australia got home and England breathed a sigh of relief.

England stay alive. They live to fight another day. Deemed as one of the strong contenders for the tournament, England have had a roller-coaster of a tournament so far. From being all but out after their first two matches, they have given themselves a better chance, with some luck of course, to qualify for the Super 8. Their batting order, playing XIs have come under the lens too; 2022 MVP Sam Curran is yet to play a game in this WC. But this is where the luck ends. From hereon, England need to put their best foot forward to enter the semifinals. Even more so with West Indies, South Africa and the United States in their Super 8 group. With the momentum on their side, they might just get their act together over the next couple of weeks. Whether they will be able to or not, we will have the answer over the next few days.

Brief scores: England 122/5 in 10 ovs (Brook 47 n.o, Bairstow 31) bt Namibia 84/3 in 10 ovs (Michael van Lingen 33) (DLS); Scotland 180/5 in 20 ovs (McMullen 60, Berrington 42 n.o; Maxwell 2/44) lost to Australia 186/5 in 19.4 ovs (Head 68, Stoinis 59; Watt 2/34).

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