‘More misery heaped on prickly and subdued England’

It has not rained for more than a month in Ahmedabad, but for England the misery certainly pours.

Defeats by Afghanistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka ripped the heart of their World Cup title defence but it was the oldest rivals of all, 11 Australians dressed in canary yellow, who sucked the last oxygen from England’s campaign on Saturday.

As hope faded and wickets fell, David Warner leapt into the arms of Marnus Labuschagne in celebration.

It was enough to make England fans reach for the TV remote, but most had switched off already.

Exactly a month earlier, England captain Jos Buttler sat in the plush Gujarat Cricket Association clubhouse behind the huge stands of the Narendra Modi Stadium, which tower above the sprawl around it.

Then he laughed with the media, joking about the prospect of a 50-over recall for James Anderson after eight years in response to one unexpected question.

Four weeks on, that smile has been replaced by a sober face that has moved from Delhi to Mumbai, Bengaluru to Lucknow – with the occasional swipe at journalists thrown in.

Asked how he was coping personally with the defeats, Buttler replied: “I’m having a great time, thanks.

“Frustrated, yeah, disappointed. Yeah, all of the above.”

There is no doubt England are hurting.

Dawid Malan, Mark Wood and Joe Root have all spoken to the media this week, united by their inability to explain the nosedive in form that has seen the double white-ball world champions lose six out of seven matches during this World Cup campaign.

Malan spoke plainly, Wood showed none of his usual joker antics, while Root’s turn to front up was so subdued it could have been a wake.

An England team that used to swagger and stick its chest out and entertain the world has had the spark beaten out of it across four miserable weeks.

The result is a team that has lost all memory of its winning formula – Buttler the personification of his side’s troubles.

He was once clear in his ability to dominate the best in the world, but now each innings looks shrouded by uncertainty.

Against Australia he struggled for nine balls before chipping the 10th straight into the hands of long-off off Adam Zampa and later had to stand and listen as the leg-spinner discussed the hold he has over him in an unfortunate crossover at the end of the Australian’s media conference.

Perhaps it is of little surprise Buttler has been prickly.

Buttler cannot take all the blame.

Since making fifties in the first two matches, Root’s famed consistency has been only of the disappointing sort – Saturday’s score of 13 following efforts of two, three, and nought.

Last week Ben Stokes was out playing an ugly swipe to Mohammed Shami as he tried to hit his way into form.

In Ahmedabad he dug in, at one stage having only eight from 30 balls, but the result was still the same.

Whether they stick or twist, the result for England is the same – defeat. Five in a row now for the first time at a World Cup.

“We’ve let ourselves down,” Buttler said on Saturday.

“We’ve let down people at home, who support us through thick and thin and we wear that on our own shoulders.”

That support has arrived in India this week in numbers, although faced with a far different situation than many would have expected.

This meeting of the two Ashes rivals was supposed to be a marquee World Cup match – scheduled in the primetime Saturday slot to kickstart the final week of matches.

Instead it meant little, with England playing for pride and Australia knowing they could lose and still reach the semi-finals.

It showed how far England have fallen.

In contrast, Australia prevented their early wobble becoming a full crisis when they lost their first two games in this tournament, to hosts India and then South Africa.

Since then they have recorded five consecutive wins, finding the turnaround many expected of the defending champions and banishing whispers that their side was, like England’s, too old.

Zampa and Sean Abbott both produced brilliant diving catches in a superb fielding display.

“Everyone’s been diving around – I’m all muddy,” said Pat Cummins with a youthful enthusiasm not befitting a 30-year-old who has played every Ashes and World Cup contest plus a World Test Championship final in the past six months.

“I feel like every game we’ve improved a little bit.

“I still don’t think we’ve played the complete game but we’ve had different matchwinners.”

Even Warner, who will retire from all three formats across the next year, was diving around like a man half his age.

While Australia’s attention now turns to a meeting with Afghanistan in Mumbai on Tuesday, knowing a win will secure the progression to the semi-finals, all England have to play for is the thing they knew nothing about 10 days ago – qualification for the 2025 Champions Trophy.

They, like some other nations, were taken by surprise last week when it was revealed they must finish in the top eight to make it to Pakistan.

At every turn we have wondered whether England’s World Cup could get worse, but never before has an England side failed to qualify for one of the major white-ball events.

The Netherlands await in Pune on Wednesday, hoping one more heap of misery can still be delivered.