Welcome back to 1999 where we are reaching the end of the group stage of the Cricket World Cup. It may be being held in England but home advantage hasn’t really been much of an advantage to me so far. Losses to Sri Lanka and South Africa have put us on the back foot, but a win against Kenya has kept us alive. Managing England has never been tougher.
It’s Zimbabwe next – surprise qualifiers for the next stage in the real event – but having a miserable time here. My Nasser experiment didn’t really work and we need to go on the attack here, so he’s out for Flintoff in the only change. The conditions are a mixed bag. The pitch itself is in decent nick, but a slow outfield will make run-scoring difficult. It’s also cloudy, so the new ball should do a bit and even if it doesn’t, it should be perfect for Wells and Ealham.
We’ve been better chasing, I think, so we win the toss and I put Zimbabwe in. Heath Streak is our main worry, though Strang can turn it a bit and of course Grant and Andy Flower are well known. Murray Goodwin will go on to play on the county circuit for years to come, so whilst they aren’t the best team in the group, they’re no mugs.
We bowl well without reward, but I can take comfort in the fact that the run rate is kept down. Still, a 60 run opening partnership is eventually ended by Vince Wells, who helps himself to all of the top three. His figures of 3-22 are incredible and his status as our player of the tournament is in little doubt. Gough takes a bit of a thrashing later on and it’s a big shame to only take 5 wickets, but 191 is a very achievable target.
Urgh, what are we doing? Knight, Flintoff and Hick depart for single figures, which brings Vince Wells to the crease to partner Stewart, who is holding us together and not for the first time. 145 runs later the job is almost done. Wells has 75 of them but he is out stumped going for a mighty heave. No matter. Stewart and Thorpe get us home with the former captain finishing unbeaten on 90. It’s a 6 wicket win, it keeps us alive but all I can think about is what India are going to do to our top order.
We’re still 5th but the reality is that with Kenya playing Sri Lanka, a win should see us through. Unless they decide to tie. That will involve us beating India, something I’m less confident of.
I’ve had a thought. I’m going to play Bulbeck at 3. I’m terrified of Anil Kumble, but he is their only spinner. Obviously, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid pose their own threat. What to make of these conditions?
I want to chase again, I think that’s a must. There’s a chance that’ll mean the pitch has worn and Kumble will run riot, but we’ve got Phil Tufnell. I forget my point there but still, it could be worse.
It becomes apparent early on we aren’t up to much. India won the toss and batted which probably means it’s a good pitch, but wickets are hard to come by. So much so the opening pair put on 179 before eventually Jadeja is bowled by Phil Tufnell. As daft as it sounds, the run rate isn’t massive so it’s not a total disaster, then Bulbeck has one of his “Harmison down under” overs and that puts us on the back foot. Khurasiya, probably the least well known of the top 7 scores 130 but is eventually caught off the bowling of Mark Ealham. Tendulkar has free reign to go mad for a few overs and 269 is a big score (in 1999). Gough can be deleted with his economy, as can Wells and Mullally really but our bowlers have very little to shout about.
Can we get 269 runs against that India attack? With this batting lineup? Well when we’re soon 6-2, I’d say no. Agarkar and Srinath are too good, too accurate for us and it sickens me. 20-3. 50-4. 85-5. The only man, as always, who cares about this country is Vince Wells. Batting at 4 and with Ramprakash by his side, the pair put on a much needed 50 partnership and the run rate is good. Wells gets to 99 and I have a tear in my eye, but apparently so does he and he edges Agarkar to Dravid in the slips. I don’t believe it. Ramprakash, Ealham and Gough keep chipping away but the damage is done, despite Alan Mullally playing some outrageous shots on his way to becoming our second highest scorer. Therein lies the problem. We lose by 41 runs. We’re out.
Here’s confirmation of our exit. Sri Lanka went on to beat Kenya, to the surprise of nobody.
The one day stuff isn’t our bag. We’re some 4 years before the invention of Twenty20, so all we have is Test cricket. That’ll be our next stop – New Zealand are coming to town. That was the scene for England becoming the worst team in the world (by ranking) so surely even I can’t be that bad. Right?