‘Keep Calm and Carry On, England’

England with the World Cup trophy at the Lord's © Getty Images

When the British Government’s Ministry of Information (MOI) came up with “Keep Calm and Carry On” — one of the three slogans to raise the morale of a war-torn nation in 1939 — the term became popular and stayed with the public. Because it was an expression of resilience that was at the core of the country’s defiance. Come this Monday, on March 14, the England cricket team might want to look back at this moment from history as they try to get their World Cup campaign back on track.

While they are at it, looking for some inspiration, England could always take a leaf out of their book from the victorious campaign in 2017. But to learn about the depth of what actually happened on July 23, 2017, at Lord’s, one has to go back to July 13, 2009.

Playing a one-off Test at the County Ground in Worcester, against their arch-nemesis, Australia, England held on to a  draw and retained the Ashes. Over the next four months, they crushed the Kiwi hearts twice to win the ODI and T20 World Cups. Every prestigious trophy that was there to be won for them was in their cabinet. For 299 days, they were on top of the world. 

On May 7, 2010, in what was a brain-freeze moment, the defending champions slipped from 65 for none to 120 for nine and were ousted from the T20 World Cup. Unexpectedly, the first crack in English dominance came against the West Indies. Australia went on to beat the perennial finalists New Zealand in a last-ball thriller to take home their first-ever T20 title. Though England were still the ODI Champions and held the Ashes, in many ways, it was the beginning of a slump they weren’t prepared for.  

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The year 2013 was a mixed bag for England. They saw the ODI World Cup slip away as Australia grabbed their sixth title in Mumbai. They held on to the Ashes even when the multi-format series was introduced in 2013. But their attempt to take back the T20 World Cup in 2014 failed as the newly appointed Australian captain Meg Lanning lifted the trophy at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Dhaka. Lanning and new coach Matthew Mott further stamped their authority in 2015, as Australia won the Ashes for the first time since 2011. 

From the glorious heights of 2009, when they were the envy of the world, England were now empty-handed. Australia were clearly at the center of the cricketing world. Veteran skipper Charlotte Edwards saw this dominance slip away and Lydia Greenway was by her side throughout these years. 

In the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, England looked like a different unit. The exciting crop of young talents like Danielle Wyatt, Amy Jones, Tammy Beaumont, and Natalia Sciver were roped in to change England’s fortunes. It started well as they thrashed Bangladesh, managed to escape against India and West Indies, and sealed the knockouts berth with a decisive victory against Pakistan. It all came down crashing against Australia in the semi-final in Delhi. It seemed like a rollback in time to 2010 as they lost their way from 67 for none in the 10th over while chasing just 133 to fall short by five runs. 

 A complete overhaul of the system looked inevitable. Edwards was sacked from the captaincy and coach Mark Robinson was tasked with building a new team for the home ODI World Cup that was less than a year away. A month and a half later, Edwards — who was the face of English cricket since she took over in 2005 — hung her boots.  Three weeks later, they were rocked by the news of the retirement of Greenway.

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With these two experienced players out of the system, Heather Knight, who had been Edwards’ deputy since 2014, was handed the crown of thorns that was England’s captaincy. Although she was being groomed to become the next leader in the lead-up to the World Cup, Knight only had 11 ODIs in total, against Pakistan, West Indies, and Sri Lanka, to put together a team. 

What came as a blessing was the fact thar Sarah Taylor — one of the best cricketers England has produced — made herself available for selection before the World Cup. The wicketkeeper-batter had announced an indefinite break from cricket following the 2016 World Cup campaign. The bold decisions, some personal and some forced, had their consequences in the year before the home World Cup, as England decided their 15-member squad, which included a rejuvenated Taylor. 

A new-look England faced India in the first match of the 2017 World Cup, with Knight leading the side in an ICC tournament for the first time. It seemed like things were going downhill once again as the hosts were comprehensively beaten by a team that came into the tournament after winning the Qualifiers. Questions about Edwards’ sacking resurfaced. England needed to win almost every match from there to make it to the knock-out stages.

Against Pakistan, an explosive Wyatt was elevated in the batting order and she repaid the trust with a quick-fire 42 off just 27 balls after the Knight-Sciver duo had set up the innings with centuries. Knight and Taylor stood up against Sri Lanka in the chase after Laura Marsh had already rocked the Islanders’ innings with a four-wicket haul.

It looked like things were falling in place for England when Taylor and Beaumont’s twin tons sank South Africa, despite some hitting by Lizelle Lee and Chloe Tryon. Their next challenge was waiting and it had to be Australia. 

England hadn’t beaten Australia in a World Cup for 24 years. The match-up between the two top sides at Bristol turned out to be one of the most enthralling games of the tournament. While the top order failed, Katherine Brunt stepped up, adding some valuable runs in the death overs with Jenny Gunn by her side. The narrow win over Australia kept them in the hunt. It was a massive confidence boost for the hosts. By now, they knew they could hold their nerves in crucial moments. 

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Sciver scored her second century against New Zealand and took a three-wicket haul against West Indies to help England finish at the top of the points table. After edging past South Africa in the semi-final, Anya Shrubsole delivered in the final moments of the World Cup against an inspired but nervy Indian unit. 

From losing the 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final after being in a strong position, England had won a home World Cup out of nowhere. They had learnt how to win the big moments under pressure. Robinson’s England knew how to take bold decisions and execute them. 

Coming back to 2022, having lost their first two games, coach Lisa Keightley’s England need to not panic at the moment. They still have at least one match in hand — against South Africa, an opposition they have outdone multiple times under pressure in the past — to decide their future. All is not yet gone. Some smart decisions while holding their nerves under pressure, along with a bit of luck, can still take England to the knock-out stages, which would be their first aim. 

The other slogan that the Ministry of Information had come up with was ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution; Will Bring Us Victory’. If England are to win the tournament from here, they might just want to reflect on what history has taught them and embody this slogan as their own.