After a nine-wicket humiliation at the hands of New Zealand in their Cricket World Cup opener, England needed a response. They got it in the form of a dominant 137-run victory over Bangladesh in Dharamshala, but the game should have been killed off far earlier.
Having been put in to bat, England set the ideal platform. Jonny Bairstow hit 52 and Dawid Malan played expertly from the outset en route to a match-winning 140 from 107 balls. Joe Root, who had been the one bright spark against New Zealand, shone again with 82 from 68.
But the cracks appeared once the top order had been dispatched. England were 296 for two in the 40th over, and with the prospect of 10 more to come, former captain Eoin Morgan spoke positively with the expectation that the side could reach 400 for the first time in a World Cup. Then the wickets started to tumble.
From 296 for two, England slid consistently to 362 for nine in the final over, relying for a second-successive match on the last pair to get them over the line and avoid being bowled out. Ultimately, it did not affect the result, but against a higher-ranked side, it could prove the difference.
Even Jos Buttler had to admit after the match, despite the win: “I think just the back end of the innings we would have liked to get a few more.
“That’s the one area I think we could improve because the opening partnership was brilliant.”
When it came to the bowling, England could not have hoped to get off to a better start, although after the first over it briefly felt like history was repeating itself, when Chris Woakes was dispatched for 12 by Liton Das, having been hit for 10 in the first match by Devon Conway. But this time Reece Topley struck at the other end.
In a change designed for the Himalayan conditions of Dharamshala, Topley was selected in place of Moeen Ali, and rewarded the faith with three for five at the start of the innings. It proved a match-winning spell, and Bangladesh were never fully able to recover and fight their way back into the game. The Surrey man made the difference with four wickets for 43 runs from 10 overs.
But there were moments when Bangladesh were allowed to build partnerships and take the game far deeper than Buttler and England would have wanted having had them 49 for four in the ninth over.
Woakes, although he took two wickets, was not at his best, but it was a significant improvement from the first match, and the same could be said for Mark Wood.
Dawid Malan hit a match-winning 140 from 107 in Dharamshala— (AFP via Getty Images)
The one standout across the last year has been Malan, who was not included in the 2019 World Cup squad, but has bided his time, kept going and is now enjoying a year of exemplary form at the age of 36. He could be key to England’s chances of reaching the semi-finals.
“(I’m) just hungry, hungry to play and to do well, hungry to score runs and win games of cricket,” Malan said.
“I’ve wanted to be part of this team for so long, it’s been impossible to break into with the players that have been so good.
“So, to get your opportunity and try and take it and, you know, enjoy it as long as it lasts, you know, is all that I try and do.”
England will take on Afghanistan in Delhi in the next match on 15 October, so will have a chance to address their problems further and hone their performance against the lower-ranked team before meeting a sterner test in the shape of South Africa on 21 October.