A flip-flop tournament
Jamie Hunt blogs on England's enigmatic World Cup campaign - and why sandals were flung through the air...
By Jamie Hunt
Last Updated: 15/03/11 11:07am
England are back in Chennai and back in the last-chance saloon.
Last time they were here, England pulled off a dramatic six-run win that put them on course for a place in the quarter-finals. Now they wait to play the West Indies, knowing their fate is in no longer in their hands.
'Never a dull moment' was the headline from my previous World Cup postcard. Well, it has hardly calmed down since England's defeat to Ireland!
What was noticeable about England's approach to their next match against South Africa was that they reverted to their training regimes of old, the ones that had served them well in back-to-back Ashes' victories and in the World Twenty20.
Richard Halsall, England's fielding coach, put the squad through high-intensity sessions, in daylight and under lights, to try bring their fielding game back to its normally peerless standards.
England's form against South Africa going into the Chennai match was good, having beaten Graeme Smith's men in eight of their last nine meetings. The press and the players were saying that this England team rises to the big occasions, that their ability to bounce back would be an asset.
But South Africa were also being widely tipped by the multitude of pundits and commentators working here as the real deal in this competition. Australia were the pre-tournament favourites but the Proteas, for many, were the team to beat.
And with England bowled out for 171, it looked as though those pundits' views would be endorsed with a comfortable victory.
One of the challenges on a tour like this, when we are feeding material by internet, is to make the most of the time available to you. With that in mind, I had suggested to our reporter, Tim Abraham, that we should go and get the fans' opinions on what should be an England defeat as early as possible, so they were ready to send the moment England inevitably lost!
"But no," said Tim, with nearly 20 years of experience covering England tours. "Too early, you never know what will happen." At 124 for three, I was convinced we had missed a trick. And then AB de Villiers was bowled by Jimmy Anderson...
Within 25 balls South Africa had been reduced to 127 for seven. With each wicket came a knowing nod from Mr Tim and even on one occasion an "I told you so."
England had a spring in their step again and duly pulled of an unlikely win. Their World Cup ship was back on course after the sinking by Ireland but before the celebrations were finished, they were heading for choppy water again.
Prior to the South Africa game, England had been forced to announce that Kevin Pietersen was struggling with a hernia problem. "We can manage it," they said, "He will be treated when he gets home." It turned out that was sooner rather than later.
As we rose at 5am the next morning to head to Chittagong, the press corps was abuzz with news that KP was going home and sure enough he didn't make it to Chennai airport with the rest of the team.
This again presents its problems with the way we file when on tour. Andy Flower gave media interviews during transit at Kolkata airport. By this time, all of England was waking up to the news of KP's departure and we needed to get something on air quickly. The problem was we only had less than two hours until we had to fly to Bangladesh.
Our cameraman Ben performed his normal miracle of cutting and editing two different chunks of Flower's interview. Now we just had to feed it. In the end, we were left carrying the laptop, with Flower's words disappearing into the air via a 3G dongle and back to UK, as we passed through the departure gates and onto the bus to the airplane. The file finished going through with the engines running, seatbelts fastened and the pilot pulling back on the throttle.
We got there in the end. But would England, because their injury troubles weren't over?
No sooner had we shot and fed the arrival of Eoin Morgan, did we learn the Stuart Broad's side injury was worse than he had feared. He too was going home.
In hindsight, all of this could be used as mitigating circumstances for what happened against Bangladesh in Chittagong, but in fairness to the England team, since that defeat they haven't looked to use it as an excuse.
In fact the arrival of Morgan seemed to give England a real lift. His innings of 63, in which he improvised and moved his feet, was exactly what England needed according to Tweets from the press box.
Chasing 226, Bangladesh collapsed to 169 for eight and England were nailed on for the quarters. Thousands of the noisy Bangladeshi crowd left the ground at the fall of the seventh and eighth wickets. How they wish they had stayed.
You wouldn't have known only 20,000 were in the stadium when Mahmudullah hit the winning runs. 80,000 at Wembley wouldn't have made more noise had Wayne Rooney just scored the winner in a World Cup final against Germany. This isn't a pretty phrase but the place went berserk.
We sat in amongst the crowd for the final five or six overs, waiting to interview England and Bangladeshi fans on their respective performances and hopes for the tournament. It wasn't the first time that I had prepared the wrong questions.
Grown men cried, they shrieked and screamed their elation and they then partied hard and late into the night. The English fans present shook hands gracefully with their Bangladeshi counterparts and told us that you couldn't be disappointed when you saw how much it meant to the people.
As if any other indication of how much this meant were needed, you need only look outside the stadium moments after the game. The road outside was crowded with tens of thousands of celebrating fans. Think Wembley Way Chittagong-style. For people who have so little, the success of their cricket team means so much, and they aren't afraid to show it.
We went outside to get some shots for Sky Sports News' viewers. The atmosphere was carnival but it nearly turned a bit sour. The police wanted to control the crowd, to keep them away from the main stadium gates. They did it in the regional fashion that we had witnessed in Bangalore.
The lathi-charging succeeded initially as the crowd retreated 50 yards back down the road. But then they advanced en masse forcing police and security staff to rush past me and Ben back into the stadium grounds. Poor Ben was left exposed on the high wall from which he was filming as the crowd pressed on, throwing their flip-flops at police as a means of protest.
Safe to say we got him down and took cover ourselves from the shower of sandals. The atmosphere calmed down and the party restarted. These made for more great shots and reaction to what was another memorable night following England at the World Cup.
So we and England are back in Chennai. Bangladesh have just seen off the Netherlands in Chittagong, leaving England needing victory over West Indies and for South Africa to beat Bangladesh.
Many in the media have been sympathetic to England's plight. They have been on tour since October and Paul Collingwood put it well on arrival in Chennai, saying that after the Ashes it was like trying to motivate yourself for back-to-back Olympic Games.
If the next five days in India don't go to plan, England's long winter may be over sooner than expected.