They fed us all little white lies. In the build-up to this World Cup, we were told the league stage would be a pressure-free formality for England; a nationwide tour in which they would play all their greatest hits – 400, the 50-ball hundred, the relay catch – in front of adoring fans. The pressure would only really kick in with the excruciating tension of a semi-final. Wrong!
England are under pressure all right. Not to qualify (at least not yet), but because everything is different now. Every detail is magnified, every experience heightened, every conclusion jumped to, every cock-up sniggered at by every other country. This is the World Cup.
I still think England picked a good time to have a bad game, and that anyone can lose to an invigorated Pakistan. But the disproportionate reaction – the whiff of sour grapes from the England players and especially the underlying unease in the media, social and traditional – has been a bit worrying.
I’m sure England will be fine. I think England will be fine. But I do wonder whether their subconscious has started to share a few unhelpful observations. There are reports of the team being unusually tetchy, and a few of the old certainties have been less secure: the opening partnership, the wisdom of batting second, Adil Rashid. There are a few niggling injuries as well, and there hasn’t been much in the way of home advantage.
I don’t like the mood around the team. The external mood, that is – I have no idea about the atmosphere within the camp since the buggers chucked me out of the WhatsApp group when they realised I was pretending to be Zafar Ansari. But externally, it all feels a bit edgy.
These things are relative. It’s not exactly comparable to being in a pub when Francis Begbie is nursing a Force 12 hangover, and woe betide the poor sod who first makes eye contact. That’s edgy. But there isn’t the same serene certainty around England that there was before the tournament. The fact so many us have this week used the phrase ‘don’t panic’ probably tells us a story.
No, you misheard me, I said I’m not panicking. That’s okay, we all make mistakes. Do I think I should be panicking? Well no, not really, they’ve only lost one game to Pakistan. Yes but that’s not the point. No, I’m not going to panic just because four years of hopes and dreams could go down the River Taff if England lose today. A lot of things could happen; doesn’t mean they will. Honestly, I’m not panicking, I don’t even know why you keep ask- RIGHT, THAT’S ENOUGH, LET’S SETTLE THIS OUTSIDE, YOU’VE BEEN GETTING RIGHT ON MY WICK EVER SINCE YOU BROUGHT UP THIS PANIC BUSINESS. I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO PANIC ABOUT, PAL!
Thankfully, Eoin Morgan was born with a congenital disorder – his knees don’t jerk. His ability to keep England in their bubble will be very important if and when they lose more games in the league stage.
They are still favourites, and quite right too, but they could do with a nice, stress-free win over Bangladesh at Cardiff. An unconvincing victory would probably increase the pressure. And if they lose, there will be panic on the streets of everywhere.