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England's World Cup woe

(From left to right) Geoffrey Boycott, Mike Gatting, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss
Many players have tried and failed to achieve World Cup glory with England

By Phil Dawkes

As shocking as England's defeat by Ireland was on Wednesday, fans well-versed in World Cup history are as likely to have responded with resignation as rage.

While the three-wicket defeat by Kevin O'Brien and co in Bangalore was arguably England's lowest moment in the tournament's 36-year history, it was also only the latest in a succession of failures in the 50-over event that veer from last-hurdle heartbreak to first-round humiliation.

Three times they have reached the final - in 1979, 1987 and 1992 - only to be denied by the West Indies, Australia and Pakistan respectively.

However, since that 22-run defeat by Imran Khan's side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 19 years ago, England's displays in the four subsequent completed tournaments have been woeful, including the ignominy of their humiliation at the hands of Sri Lanka in 1996, exiting in the first round on home soil in 1999 and the political chaos of 2003.

Even during their recent resurgence as a Test side under the captaincy of Michael Vaughan and now Andrew Strauss, they have failed to replicate their five-day success in the one-day arena.

We weren't really given any help. And there wasn't any importance put on one-day cricket apart from what we put on it ourselves. As players we thought it was really important, but we were largely on our own

Former England batsman Graeme Fowler

In the last World Cup in the West Indies four years ago, England contributed their own slice of mediocrity to what was a shambles of a tournament, both on and off the field, failing to make it beyond the Super Eight stage and now, four years later, they are at risk of another ignominious early exit.

If Strauss' team are to succeed where no other England side has and win the World Cup they are not only have to reverse their recent poor form but also the tide of history.

The first three World Cups were held in England - then widely regarded as the singular home of cricket - in a cricketing world where statistical analysis, limited overs specialists, coloured clothing and corporate sponsorship were still in the distant future. One-day internationals were largely viewed - certainly by the traditionalists in this country - as a second-class form of the game.

Not even an impressive performance from the host nation in the first three tournaments could alter the mindset of many.

In the inaugural event in 1975 - prior to which there had only ever been 18 ODIs - Mike Denness's England breezed through to the semi-final where they were beaten by Australia.

They went one better four years later by making the final, only to be beaten by the 1975 champions, Clive Lloyd's all-powerful West Indies.

England's John Snow bowls as India's Sunil Gavaskar backs up at the non-strikers' end
England beat India in the first ever World Cup match in 1975

The opening game of the 1983 World Cup between England and New Zealand was still only the 197th official ODI ever played and attitudes towards the format - among the administrators at least - remained sceptical, if not outright opposed.

Batsman Graeme Fowler, who opened the batting for England in that match, testifies to the prevailing attitudes of the time.

"The governing body in cricket at that time in this country didn't really embrace one-day cricket like a lot of other teams around the world," Fowler told BBC Sport.

"We weren't really given any help. And there wasn't any importance put on it apart from what we put on it ourselves. As players we thought it was really important, but we were largely on our own.

"We tried as hard as we could and were as professional as we were allowed to be at that time.

"We didn't really have a coach, there was no manager. All we had was a captain.

"The format was that we drove to the ground the day before and had a net, the night before we'd have a team meeting, play the next day, stay overnight and then we drove on to the next game.

"Team meetings weren't in depth, there was no research on the opposition, there was no video footage in those days, or any statistical analysis, you just rocked up, played your best and left."

Despite the laid-back approach, England again did well in the 1983 Cup, making it to the semi-finals, where they faced an Indian side whose talented players and notoriously passionate supporters had approached one-day internationals with a sense of ambivalence, if not apathy.

India's win at Old Trafford, followed by victory over the West Indies in the final at Lord's would create the initial interest amongst the Indian public that would propel the one-day game towards the high-profile, commercial and competitive entity it is today.

"It kick-started one or two things," admitted Fowler. "It is massively different now. A totally different world. You can turn the telly on and more or less watch cricket at some stage during the day from somewhere around the world.

Allan Border is congratulated after taking the wicket of Mike Gatting
Gatting's dismissal started the collapse that cost England the 1987 final

"One of the reasons one-day cricket has changed so much now in this country is that some of the people who played in that team or of that era, went into cricket admin.

"I set up the centres of excellence, Hugh Morris is now the head of the ECB, Mike Gatting is there, you have Ian Botham, David Gower and Bob Willis, who was captain, have all gone into commentary to voice opinions on the game.

"We said that more importance should be put on this, more should be done to help the players and it should be a bigger spectacle."

As a symbol of the start of the transference of power away from Lord's the tournament left England for the first time in 1987 to be held in India and Pakistan.

The 1987 final between old enemies England and Australia remains one of the most infamous in English cricket history, not least because of the misjudged reverse sweep shot played by Mike Gatting, which saw England's captain caught and kick-started a batting collapse that ended the side's hopes of attaining their 254-run target.

The seven-run margin of defeat remains the closest England have ever come to lifting the trophy. To rub salt into the wound, the victory would be the springboard for Australia's march to world domination.

By the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand the appetite for ODIs had grown considerably and the ICC responded to this by attempting to stamp a unique and commercially viable identity on the format, which included the introduction of coloured clothing, white balls, floodlit matches and a refinement of the fielding circle rules, which led to the growth of the pinch-hitter.

1975: Skittled for 93 by a Gary Gilmour-inspired Australia in a four-wicket semi-final defeat
1979: The loss of eight wickets for 11 runs seals 92-run defeat by West Indies in the final
1983: Cruised to the semis before a six-wicket loss to eventual winners India
1987: Mike Gatting's ill-judged reverse-sweep triggers collapse to narrow, seven-run final defeat by Australia
1992: A strong run to the final ruined by Imran Khan's Pakistan via a 22-run margin
1996: Scraped through to the quarter-finals before being easily beaten by Sri Lanka in the quarters
1999: Knocked out in the first round, on home soil, before the tournament's official song is even released
2003: Refusal to play in Harare sees Zimbabwe advance to Super Sixes at England's expense
2007: England are suitably poor in a shambolic event as they limply exit at the Super Eight stage

England had a strong side and again reached the final, but by then a heavy workload had taken its toll and they were beaten by a buoyant Pakistan side.

The hugely profitable 1992 event was another significant milestone in the competitive and commercial rise of one-day cricket, but as the format continued to grow, England's on-field fortunes faded.

The failure to replace top international performers, in-fighting between players and selectors and an inability to marry the demands of county cricket with that of the national team led to a decade-long decline.

Such was their deterioration that they could only scrape into the knock-out rounds at the 1996 World Cup, where they were humiliatingly dispatched by a Sanath Jayasuriya-inspired Sri Lanka, and then, three years later, capitulated under the pressures of hosting the event and failed to make it past round one.

Robert Croft, who played for England in the '99 World Cup, provided BBC Sport with an insight into the campaign.

"We didn't play great cricket in that tournament, which was very frustrating for us as players, and for the home fans as well," he admitted.

"I remember a game at Edgbaston and you could see the anger in the fans faces as we were leaving the ground.

"We weren't beating many teams at that time but there were a lot of good teams around the world then: there was an excellent Australia side, the West Indies were still very good and India and South Africa were strong.

"We'd played them in the two or three years leading up to the World Cup and being on the receiving end of it, which led to a lot of changes with regard to team selection.

Imran Khan celebrates the wicket of England number 11 Richard Illingworth
Pakistan consigned England to yet another defeat in a World Cup final

"These aren't excuses, they just could be factors that may be involved. The bottom line is that when we did play, whatever side was used, we didn't play well enough. No coach's or manager's fault, we just didn't play well enough.

Croft also illustrated just how much cricket - and the World Cup in particular - have changed from Fowler's day.

"There was a level of analysis on other teams, it was the infancy of sports psychology - which I actually felt were more of a hindrance than a help during that World Cup," said Croft.

"It was surreal really, because also there was so much promotional stuff to be done beforehand which, perhaps didn't sidetrack us, but took a lot of the focus off the actual cricket.

"I remember going to Lord's for launches. Dave Stewart did the official song for the tournament and we were there for that, and Caprice was involved for all the promotional stuff.

"I can understand the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] wanting it to rock, as it were, and as players you think it won't affect you but it does.

"It takes away the focus of why you are there, which is to win the World Cup, not for the razzmatazz beforehand."

As is so often the case in sport, World Cup's - specifically failed World Cup campaigns - tend to be watershed moments in the careers of coaches and players.

So it would prove with England as Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain replaced David Lloyd and Alec Stewart as coach and captain respectively, forming a duo that would start to lead an England side, assisted by the introduction of central contracts, out of the cricket wilderness.

Andrew Flintoff is bowled
England had a very poor 2007 World Cup in the West Indies

However, the 2003 World Cup would prove to be a frustrating and difficult experience for England, whose hotel-bound inactivity as the debate over whether they would play in Zimbabwe raged on, would characterise their tournament far more than anything they did on the pitch.

Ultimately, England did not travel to Harare thus forfeiting the match, and they were unable to accrue enough points from their other fixtures to advance beyond the first group stage.

In the intervening years between the 2003 World Cup and the one in the West Indies in 2007, England had enjoyed a renaissance under new captain Michael Vaughan that culminated in regaining the Ashes in 2005 , before injury to the skipper meant Andrew Flintoff led the side down under 18 months later for a shambolic Ashes tour that saw the side whitewashed 5-0.

Vaughan returned to lead the side in the West Indies in 2007, but after Flintoff drunkenly capsized a pedalo in the aftermath of a post-opening game defeat drinking session, the team sank.

And so to 2011. Sceptics will already have written England off following the Ireland defeat, which was preceded by a remarkable - and heartening draw with co-hosts and favourites India - but also a hugely underwhelming six-wicket win over the Netherlands.

Ironically, Strauss and his players could do worse than draw inspiration from the very team who have consigned them to their current predicament.

At the start of their innings on Wednesday, Ireland were 400-1 to triumph. England's odds for winning the World Cup for the first time are only 10-1.

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see also
Strauss stunned by England defeat
02 Mar 11 |  England
Brilliant Ireland shock England
02 Mar 11 |  Cricket
England & India in thrilling tie
27 Feb 11 |  England
Ragged England sneak past Dutch
22 Feb 11 |  England
Cricket World Cup 2011
09 Mar 11 |  Cricket
England regroup for cricket World Cup
08 Feb 11 |  Cricket
Strauss retains World Cup hopes
06 Feb 11 |  England
Strauss upbeat ahead of World Cup
02 Feb 11 |  England
Prior in England World Cup squad
19 Jan 11 |  England
ICC to consider shorter World Cup
20 Feb 08 |  Cricket
Cricket World Cup 2007
01 May 07 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket

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