Sun. May 26th, 2024

Sport is punctuated with moments that resemble a changing of the guard.

There was Stephen Hendry ending Steve Davis’ era of snooker dominance in the 1990 UK Championship final, Serena Williams standing with arms wide in disbelief after downing Martina Hingis to win her first Grand Slam at the US Open in 1999 or Max Verstappen’s last-gasp overtake in Abu Dhabi in 2021.

Sunday night in Lucknow felt like a similar moment for 50-over cricket.

England’s slide has meant we saw it coming but this result, with its margin as wide as the gap between Jos Buttler’s bat and pad, left it plain to see.

A once champion team was overpowered by another hell-bent on taking its crown.

And while some of these changes shock, this one should surprise in how emphatically it has come.

India have everything England had when they won the World Cup in 2019. England now hold nothing but the memories.

India are laser focused on achieving a stated aim – winning a trophy they have been starved of – just as England were under captain Eoin Morgan four years ago.

Cricket’s powerhouse have not won a white-ball trophy for 12 years, no time compared to England’s wait for the 50-over trophy which had passed painfully through three generations until a sunny Sunday at Lord’s, but India have planned for this and now look ready to reap the rewards.

They have played more games in the format than anyone else during the past four-year cycle – 66 matches to England’s 42.

The result is a team that looks, like England did before them, able to win games with their eyes firmly shut.

In Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill they have a pair that has taken on Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy’s crown as the best opening partnership in the world.

Then comes the superstar Virat Kohli, the solidity of KL Rahul and in the Ben Stokes role the all-round brilliance of Hardik Pandya, who is expected to return to fitness by the semi-finals at the latest.

If Jasprit Bumrah or Mohammed Siraj do not get you with the ball, Mohammed Shami or a re-energised spinner Kuldeep Yadav will.

Ravichandran Ashwin, with his 717 international wickets, has not played since India’s first game. He can be left out just as England were able to omit Moeen Ali four years ago.

Their white-ball depth used to be England’s strength.

Now an injury to Reece Topley has resulted in a recall for a bowler that had to be dropped in Chris Woakes, while his opening partner David Willey is the one member of this squad not given a new central contract last week.

The other option to come in, Gus Atkinson, has only played six 50-over games for county or country, while a batting line-up once the envy of the world keeps collapsing at an alarming rate.

215, 170, 156, 129 is not the falling value of the pound against the rupee but England’s ever-decreasing totals in this World Cup.

Against Australia on Saturday in Ahmedabad, things could hit double digits.

England are at a loss to locate the brick that crumbled to bring their whole castle tumbling down. An eye was taken off the ball and now Buttler is suggesting “answers on a postcard” are the best place to look for a solution.

India, meanwhile, have that final crucial factor that England had in 2019 – home advantage.

The past three World Cups have been won by a host.

In this tournament India play in nine of the 10 venues, from Dharamsala in the Himalayas to Chennai on the Bay of Bengal, Kolkata in the east and Ahmedabad in the west, bringing each city to a standstill as they go.

In Lucknow, up in India’s cooler north, fans surged towards the ground in their thousands – each heeding the call to arrive in electric blue.

This match had been billed on local TV as “revenge” for the 10-wicket thrashing England served up in the T20 World Cup semi-final a year ago in Adelaide.

England threatened to keep the locals quiet for a while but, with the great Kohli waving his arms to whip them into a frenzy, the stadium’s ornate walls shuddered as those in the stands blew their horns and waved their flags.

India won their first five games of the tournament via their favoured method of chasing.

So comfortable were those matches that twice the pursuits became a sideshow in the main event of Kohli attempting to notch another century.

Here they were asked to bat first on a tricky pitch, made a score only par at best and still won by 100 runs.

Right now, with three group matches and a potential semi-final and final to play, India look the standout team, a juggernaut almost impossible to stop.

Others, like Buster Douglas knocking out a previously unbeaten Mike Tyson, have taken down the champion but failed to take on the mantle.

India have it in their hands. They must now go on and secure the legacy.

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