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Brendon McCullum backs England to recover from poor World Cup start

Brendon McCullum has backed England to recover from the unconvincing start to their World Cup defence, saying that despite the two defeats in their opening three games there is still time for their quality to show.

“They just need to stay true to their method and their style which has brought them so much success and not get shaken by the odd bad day at the office,” McCullum told the Mirror. “Of course the boys would have liked to be 3 and 0, but sport doesn’t work like that and sometimes you have to cope with challenges and then show how good you are. One thing is for sure, there are good reasons why England have won two World Cups recently.”

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England were defeated by Afghanistan on Sunday in the first genuine shock of the tournament, though South Africa, their next opponents, have since endured a similar humbling against the Netherlands. “It is a World Cup, so there is going to be the odd upset and that is what you want in a tournament like this,” said McCullum, England’s Test head coach. “Look at what happened to South Africa. That was a strong win from the Dutch and there will be other unexpected results before the tournament is over.”

McCullum is in Mumbai, where England play on Saturday, on business and staying in the same hotel as the team, where he has discussed the situation with his white-ball counterpart, Matthew Mott. “It was good to see the boys out here and have a brief catch-up with Motty,” he said.

“They are doing a great job and have done so for a long time and I’m just looking forward to seeing them show their quality over the next few weeks

“Playing cricket in India against the nine other top nations in a World Cup is never going to be a walk in the park, but this is what they boys play the game for. This is what gets them excited and I’m sure that we will see the best of them soon enough.”

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Jonny Bairstow earlier expressed similar sentiments, insisting that his confidence in their ability to retain the trophy remains undimmed.

“The group remains calm,” he said. “Belief and confidence isn’t something that’s been questioned one bit. Confidence is there, it’s unwavering. There’s no lack of belief within this group. There’s a reason why the guys won the T20 World Cup last year. There’s a reason why the guys won the 2019 World Cup and we’re the defending champions. Just because we’ve lost one game to Afghanistan doesn’t make us bad cricketers or anything like that. It’s one game.”

Bairstow said the defeat against Afghanistan had been unfairly characterised as some kind of humiliation. “I think you’ve got to give them credit. You look at Fazalhaq Farooqi, his record in the IPL, you look at the three spinners they’ve got and their records. Just because they play for Afghanistan, they’re no slouches. They’ve actually got some of the world’s best in there, and they’ve got match-winners.”

If the mood in the England camp has changed since the defeat against Afghanistan on Sunday, and their subsequent transfer from Delhi to Mumbai, it is by the double boost of a couple of free days and the arrival of some players’ families – if not, as yet, the promised Jofra Archer – rather than by a sudden, crushing realisation of their own frailties.

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But clearly their performance, with bat and ball, must improve against South Africa on Saturday. Their key problem as a batting unit is easy to identify, if not to fix: while they have been scoring at a similar speed to 2019 (6.12 runs an over, slightly down from 2019’s 6.27 but way above all their previous World Cup efforts) they are also getting out much more regularly (the average innings has lasted 30.75 balls, down from 2019’s 40.8). As a result the tail is being called upon much more frequently – England’s last four batters faced 155 balls in 11 games at the 2019 World Cup, and have already faced 151 in three matches this year.

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Bairstow is still convinced of the side’s ability to score big and bat long. “I don’t really think much has changed from last year, when the guys banged 498 against the Netherlands. I don’t think anything’s changed. I think that you look at the strength in depth that we have with our batting lineup, and I don’t think the firepower can be questioned.”

The question is how to achieve big scores again. On Tuesday Mott said responsibility fell on Bairstow and the rest of the top order: “We win these games in the first 15 overs with bat and ball and we haven’t done that well,” the white-ball coach said. “What we need to do is dominate those first 15 overs whether we bat first or bowl first in the next game.”

But Bairstow, intriguingly, disagreed with Mott’s analysis. “If you look at the trend you need to be able to accelerate at the end, whereas in England you can just go all the way through,” he said. “The importance of the first 10 is yes to score quickly, but also score in a way that’s sustainable over a long period of time … to get into a position [after 35 overs] where your No 5, six or seven can go ‘boff’ with two men in. That’s how generally teams have gone over a period of time in India.