England’s World Cup nightmare continued as their miniscule mathematical hopes of staying in the competition were finally extinguished by bitter rivals Australia.
After five defeats from their first six games the defending champions had long since given up hope of reaching the semi-finals, but officially bowing out at the hands of their Ashes foes with a 33-run defeat simply poured salt into open wounds.
Once again it was their batting that let them down, failing to get to grips with a manageable target after a spirited showing from the bowling unit left Australia 286 all out in the final over.
England were knocked over for 253 in response, Ben Stokes top-scoring with 64 but unable to pull his side out of the fire.
On the eve of the match Stokes had bluntly deemed England’s campaign as “crap” and as they sit rooted to the foot of the table, with qualification for the 2025 Champions Trophy now in serious doubt, it is hard to improve on that description.
England kept an unchanged XI for the third game in a row and their refusal to thrust their best young batter, Harry Brook, back into a top six that has repeatedly imploded looks increasingly eccentric.
Established names like Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and captain Jos Buttler continued their dreadful sequence of scores, while all-rounder Liam Livingstone struggled to make a case with bat or ball. Keeping Brook waiting any longer would surely be madness.
England were back at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, the same ground where they were thrashed by New Zealand in the curtain-raiser a month ago, and they will be happy to see the back of the place.
Like their most recent defeat to India, England looked competitive at the halfway stage. Chris Woakes, player of the series in this summer’s Ashes, raised his game against the Australians again as he chimed in with four for 54 as he topped and tailed the innings.
He removed both openers in a controlled new ball spell, Travis Head steering to slip and David Warner chipping to midwicket. He also wrapped things up at the death with two wickets in the 50th over.
But Steve Smith (44), Marnus Labuschagne (71) and Cameron Green (47) all batted with enough care to drag their side up towards a par score. England leaned on Adil Rashid in the middle overs as he picked up two for 38, including Smith just as he was beginning to speed up, but Mark Wood was expensive again.
Given their fragile displays with the bat thus far, England desperately needed a steady start to their innings and a chance to feel their way into the contest.
What happened was the stuff of nightmares, Bairstow flicking the first ball of the innings from Mitchell Starc down leg and into Josh Inglis’ gloves.
That meant another early introduction for Root and, for the fifth game in a row, an exit before the end of the powerplay. He had already seen one catch go down, spilled at short cover by Marcus Stoinis, when he nicked Starc behind for 13.
Dawid Malan kept the scoreboard moving but Stokes dug out just nine runs from his first 32 balls and took 38 to bank his first boundary.
For a moment, as Stokes took the score past three figures with a straight six and Malan chalked off a no-frills 50, it looked as if things were heading in the right direction.
But it was an illusion, Malan skying Pat Cummins down fine-leg’s throat and Buttler lofting Adam Zampa straight to long-on with just a single to his name.
In his mind it must have seemed a statement of intent; in practice it was an abdication of responsibility.
At the 30-over mark England’s position was grave, 159 needed at an asking rate of 7.95. Stokes and Moeen Ali flickered into life, crashing 41 off the next five overs, but their riposte was short-lived as Zampa removed both on his way to an exemplary three for 21.
Stokes scooped to short fine-leg with 13 overs left and 113 still to get, ending on his knees and holding his hands out in despair, and Moeen holed out for 42. Carefree late-hitting from Woakes and Rashid tightened the margin but never came close to changing the result.