It’s the kind of thing players say when they’re down to the last motivational trick in the kitbag and Joe Root was clearly clutching at straws by claiming England were a better team than Australia.
With the Stuart Broad as chief protagonist era officially over, Root stepped up to try to put the Aussies off their game before Saturday’s World Cup showdown at Ahmedabad by claiming “man for man, I’d have this team every day over the Australians”.
His teammates probably appreciated the sentiment – what else is he going to say: “A few of our players are better than the Aussies but some of them are pie-chuckers and flat-track bullies by comparison.”
Even though based on recent performances, those descriptions are pretty apt when assessing what will go down as the worst World Cup title defence by any team in the nearly 50-year history of the event.
To jog old Joe’s memory, which clearly needs a freshen-up, his team has managed just one measly win in India over Bangladesh, which has been the only rival line-up travelling anywhere nearly as badly as this English rabble.
They were thumped by New Zealand to open the Cup with nine wickets and 14 overs to spare, outclassed by Afghanistan in a 69-run upset which probably turns out wasn’t one after all, obliterated by 229 runs when they collapsed against South Africa and pounded by eight wickets to give Sri Lanka one of their two wins.
Even when England got their bowling right to restrict India to 9-229 in their most recent outing, they still managed to lose by an even 100 such has been the ineptitude of their batting.
England have followed the Australian selection strategy of sticking by their golden generation of stars with not one player under 30 in their current XI.
At least the Aussie veterans overcame their slow start to post four straight wins and rise into third spot to be all but assured of a semi-final berth with England, Afghanistan and Bangladesh their only remaining opponents in the group stage.
One of those teams is capable of giving them a run for their money and it’s the team that’s only been a full member nation for a few years compared to the other two.
The nucleus of the side which made England the first nation to concurrently hold the T20 and ODI World Cups is now looking well past their prime and the axe will likely fall on several big names when the Indian dust settles from this failed campaign.
Ben Stokes’ decision to come out of ODI “retirement” has shown that even the world’s best players can’t pick and choose when they dip in and out of formats.
The fact that he’s been nowhere near peak fitness means he would have been better off taking an extended break after the Ashes to concentrate on England’s upcoming five-Test tour of India early in the new year.
He’s going to have another knee surgery after this campaign is over. Why wait? Shut it down now. It would be foolish if England risk playing him again in their final three matches of playing for pride.
They’re also trying to avoid the embarrassment of not finishing in the top eight which will mean they won’t qualify for the Champions Trophy in Pakistan in 2025.
The only silver lining for them on that front is that this virtually pointless ICC event probably won’t go ahead because India will find a way to worm out of going to Pakistan.
Apart from Stokes, the English “brains trust” would be well served to tell Root, captain Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood that they need to concentrate on one format or be told they’re no longer required altogether in the future for England to rebuild.
Their chances of retaining the T20 crown next June in the Caribbean and US are looking pretty slim even if they can engineer it so that pace spearhead Jofra Archer is fit and available in what is sadly becoming an infrequent occurrence on the international stage.
Root’s “man for man” claim continues the theme of unnecessary hubris from the various England sides over the past few months.
They have supposedly revolutionised Test cricket with their Bazball style which has been successful to a point but they still weren’t able to regain the Ashes on home soil and the trip to India will also be another litmus test for its effectiveness when pitches aren’t made to order.
And if it still needs pointing out, let’s take a quick look through the respective first-choice ODI XIs and work out, man for man, who would make the Sidchrome super team if you had both sides to choose from.
Openers – David Warner and Travis Head vs Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan. Australia 2-0.
Middle order – Mitch Marsh, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne vs Root, Stokes and Buttler. On current form, it’s now 5-0 to the green corner.
Closers – Glenn Maxwell and Josh Inglis or Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone? Nuff said. Before this tournament you’d say Livingstone for sure but he hasn’t past 27 in five trips to the crease. That’s 7-0.
Bowling attack: Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa vs Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, David Wiley and Adil Rashid. Granted the Poms lost their best bowler early in the Cup when Rees Topley got injured again but it’s another whitewash in this department. 11-0.
On reputations in the ODI arena, Root can mount a case for his teammates but on recent form, his argument doesn’t hold much water.
And of course if you ask Cummins or any of the Australians, they wouldn’t trade any of their players for this England mob either.