In a blaze of high hopes, Jos Buttler had boldly declared that England would forge new World Cup memories in 2023. However, their campaign got off to an all-too-familiar start: the daunting task of reviving their prospects following a devastating group-stage defeat.
England did have a blueprint for bouncing back from such setbacks. In 2019, their loss to Australia forced them to win four consecutive matches to claim victory in the competition. Similarly, in last year's T20 World Cup, a defeat to Ireland placed them in a similar predicament.
Nevertheless, despite drawing strength from recent history, England hadn't felt as thoroughly outmatched in a global event since 2015, when they suffered a crushing nine-wicket defeat to New Zealand at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
Amidst this disappointment, Joe Root's well-crafted 77 provided some relief regarding his own form, with him stressing the importance of maintaining composure. He pointed out that even World Cup-winning sides have encountered hurdles along the way, citing England's own struggles in 2019.
Contrary to expectations of tight contests between England and New Zealand in global events, the defending champions were thoroughly dismantled. Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra, close friends from Wellington, compiled an incredible unbeaten partnership of 273 runs. England's primary frustration stemmed from their batting display, as they managed 282 for nine on a batting-friendly pitch.
The peculiar record of all 11 batsmen reaching double figures in an ODI for the first time in 4,658 matches was accompanied by a sense of missed opportunities. Only Root exceeded 43 runs, and the partnership between Root and Buttler, which took England to 188-4 in the 34th over, was the only one to surpass 40.
England's regrets extended to their batting approach, marked by moments of timidity. While they struck 21 fours and six sixes, amassing 120 runs from boundaries, Conway and Ravindra pummeled 30 fours and eight sixes, racking up 168 runs from boundaries. Several England batsmen fell victim to half-hearted shots, failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
England vowed to rectify these shortcomings in their upcoming matches, with Root emphasizing their intent to play more aggressively and impose pressure on opponents. They aimed to achieve imposing scores that could overwhelm the opposition.
Remarkably, New Zealand defied expectations by altering their usual playing style. Despite fielding an ostensibly imbalanced side due to injuries, they opted for just three specialist bowlers. This decision paid off as they strategically removed England's dangerous hitters, Buttler and Livingstone, in the late stages of the innings.
Unfazed by the early loss of Will Young, Conway and Ravindra exploited the fielding restrictions during the powerplay, reaching 81 for one in the first ten overs. For Conway, this performance reaffirmed his status as a potential top run-scorer in the World Cup, while Ravindra's maiden international century marked the emergence of a promising talent.
England's bowlers struggled to contain the Kiwi batsmen, with Wood and Woakes conceding a combined 100 runs in just 11 overs under the lights. Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, and Liam Livingstone, England's spin trio, also had a tough outing, conceding 131 runs in 19.2 overs.
As the Ahmedabad evening cooled down, New Zealand continued to heat up, securing a victory that could have far-reaching implications for the tournament. While Buttler acknowledged a loss as a loss, qualification could ultimately hinge on net run rate, presenting yet another challenge for England. They now face the daunting task of winning six of their remaining eight matches to reach the semi-finals.
[Submitted by Kevin Rademeyer]