Hazlewood raises prospect of run-rate shenanigans but England’s task clear

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> players warm up during a net session at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.</span><span>Photograph: Jan Kruger-ICC/ICC/Getty Images</span>

England can do little more than strive to beat Oman and Namibia, beat them well, and hope Australia then do them a serious favour against ­Scotland. But after Josh Hazlewood entertained the notion of Australia potentially manipulating that match to eliminate the defending ­champions – something that could risk up to a two‑match ban for their captain, Mitch Marsh, if proved – these next few days could yet become spicier than a bottle of Antigua’s Grannie Annie pepper sauce.

The scenario facing the ­defending champions has been well trailed since their 36-run defeat against Australia, with two wins – starting against Oman on Thursday – and a stark improvement on a net run-rate of minus 1.8 their only hope of making the Super Eight phase.

Related: Jos Buttler insists England will not be ‘consumed’ by run-rate concerns

Although it may not be enough.

Scotland then meet Australia in the final game of Group B in St Lucia on Saturday night, after the conclusion of England versus Namibia. A shock win guarantees Richie Berrington’s Scotland a top-two finish but a defeat that keeps their net run-rate above England’s would also ensure progress.

It has raised the hypothetical possibility of Australia, already through to the Super Eight stage and the group decided by the seeding rather than final first-round finish, being able to potentially carve up the match to the detriment of England, such as ­by slowing a run chase. It was something Hazelwood did not dismiss out of hand when asked about it after their nine-wicket cruise against Namibia on Tuesday.

Hazlewood said: “In this tournament you could potentially come up against England [again] at some stage. They’re probably one of the top few teams on their day and we’ve had some real struggles against them in T20 cricket, so if we can get them out of the tournament that’s in our best interest as well as probably everyone else.”

Asked how this might look, he replied: “I’m not too sure really, whether you get close [in a run chase] and just knock it around and drag it out. There’s a few options there. But to take confidence from winning and winning well, I think that’s almost more important than potentially trying to knock someone else out. [England] have still got a lot to do on their behalf as well, so I think it’ll become clearer the closer we get to that sort of stuff.”

Even with that caveat, Marsh, Australia’s captain, may wish his fast bowler had kept stumm. Under the offences listed in the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct is article 2.11: “Manipulation of international matches for inappropriate strategic or tactical reasons.”

As well as deliberately losing – not something one would expect to be relevant – it includes the principle of ­massaging the net run-rate to affect the ­standings of other teams at an ICC tournament. A level-two offence, it would trigger a 50% to 100% match fee fine for the team’s captain and/or up to a two-match ban.

Quite how this would be enforced by Jeff Crowe, the match referee for the Australia-Scotland game in St Lucia, is not entirely ­straightforward. Unless so overt as to be beyond any reasonable doubt, a captain could cite any number of factors as to why their side played in the manner they did on any given day. Either way, and ­having worked with Hazlewood at New South Wales, England’s ­Australian head coach, Matthew Mott, was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

England (possible): Jos Buttler (c & wk), Phil Salt, Will Jacks, Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Chris Jordan, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid.

Oman (possible): Naseem Khushi, Pratik Athavale(w), Aqib Ilyas(c), Zeeshan Maqsood, Khalid Kail, Ayaan Khan, Mehran Khan, Rafiullah, Shakeel Ahmed, Kaleemullah, Bilal Khan.

“Knowing Josh has got a pretty dry sense of humour, I am hoping it was very much tongue in cheek,” Mott said.

“I actually don’t think [that scenario] is ever going to play out. ­Having grown up in Australia and [knowing] the will to win every game, I am sure they will come to the fore. I am very much ­hoping it was an offhand remark by a really good bloke who is having fun.”

Mott was understandably keen to focus on the Oman game, England having been unfortunate with the rain against Scotland in Barbados but also scruffy in the one‑and‑a‑quarter matches they have played. There was a strong suggestion that the top seven would remain in situ, although tweaks to the bowling attack were hinted at. Reece Topley, whose left‑arm swing has thus far been overlooked, must surely get his chance and will probably have assistance from another strong crosswind.

If so, then Mark Wood might appear the obvious seamer to make way after the ball came too nicely on to Australian willow last weekend. But equally, high pace against an associate nation could also unlock the rapid victory England are so des­perately craving. The question should pro­bably be whether they really need the ­insurance policy that is Chris Jordan’s batting at No 8 against the 19th-ranked side in the world.

That said, Topley coming in for an athlete such as Jordan would lower the fielding prowess of a team that has looked a bit cumbersome so far and were penalised for slow play in their last match. For all the permutations and variables now beyond their control, England have a few areas closer to home that need spicing up.