A host of problems for holders

Like humbled bullies who'd just had a fast one pulled on them for a change, they stumbled off the field, disbelief etched on their faces. All around them, the little Islanders danced and celebrated with unbridled joy as if there was no tomorrow. While the Sri Lankans were understandably agog with the miraculous upset that they had just engineered, not many of the Englishwomen could get themselves to flash the customary smile as they congratulated their vanquishers.

Except Charlotte Edwards, that is. The affable England skipper to her credit somehow seemed to suppress her bitter disappointment and sported a grin, even if only a wry and vain one. The defending champions had after all just suffered a rather epic reversal. The superpower had been downed by the most unfancied of underdogs. And what's worse, England had hardly looked the stronger side at any point on Friday at the Brabourne Stadium. If their bowling was below par, so abject was their performance on the field that their reputation of being the best fielding unit might require a rethink.

And they are unlikely to carry the favourites tag as they go into their clash against hosts India at the CCI on Sunday. Especially, since Mithali Raj & Co have their tails up following a rampant show against the West Indies on Thursday.

One-woman army?

The most worrying factor for England to come out of their tournament opener though would have been the reiteration of the fact that their batting no longer remains as steadfast and dominant as before. More than ever before, they are over-dependent on their inspirational skipper to deliver the goods.

The signs were ominous in the build-up to their debacle against Sri Lanka itself. Against New Zealand in the practice match for example, the middle-order caved in with little resistance, save a half-century to Lydia Greenway, after Edwards went cheaply. Just like on Friday, where it took a rear-guard effort from Jenny Gunn and Amy Jones down the order to save England the blushes. The only match they have won on tour so far was when Edwards led the way with 78 against South Africa in their first warm-up.

The 33-year-old opener has been an essential feature over the last five World Cups for her team. Importantly, England have always had a middle-order experienced and skilled enough to make the most of the solid platforms their talisman has provided. The likes of Claire Taylor and Caroline Atkins —the duo who top-scored incidentally when the two teams last met in a World Cup encounter four years ago—though have moved on in the last couple of years. And with the highly-rated Sarah Taylor out with injury, the English can no longer boast of possessing intimidating depth in their batting line-up. If anything, their middle-order seems more brittle than ever before. And with the Indian bowlers having displayed excellent form in their opening match, the pressure will be right on the likes of Greenway and Arran Brindle to lift their game and provide more support to their prolific captain.

On Saturday, the Indian captain was also quick to note that her opponents' bowling responsibilities too were centred far too much on the shoulders of pacer Katherine Brunt, which certainly was the case against the Lankans. And seeing the disdain with which the likes of Thirush Kamini and Poonam Raut treated the West Indian spinners, including the fancied Anisa Mohammed, Holly Colvin and Danielle Hazell are set to face a stringent test.

But speaking of top-heavy batting line-ups, India's middle-order too remains largely untested form-wise with the openers having done most of the damage, including in the two practice fixtures. At the most, Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur have been called in to bolster the run-rate and are yet to spend extensive time at the crease.

So while Edwards' stay at the crease could well be the deciding factor when England come out to bat, Brunt & Co too will be aware that dismissing the Indian openers cheaply could open an unforeseen Pandora's box in what is the most highly-anticipated encounter of the World Cup so far.

The home team might be riding high after their 105-run thrashing of the Caribbean girls, where almost everything fell into place. And they'll be aware that a win on Sunday will ascertain their spot in the super-six stage. England on the other hand cannot afford to dwell on spilled milk for too long, and have to produce their A game to avoid slipping into a do-or-die scenario. One that the multiple-time world champions have never experienced before at this early stage of a World Cup.

Live on Star cricket: 9am

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