Under pressure, England can become the team they want to be

England's destiny lies in their own hands Getty Images

Could Carlos Brathwaite, after 81 balls of measured brilliance amid a meltdown of sense from his team-mates, not have tapped a single to long-on and taken the match against New Zealand to the final over, from which five runs would be required? Did he not see Kane Williamson move the fielder back to the very position over which he aimed to deposit the final ball of the Jimmy Neesham over, an over that had contained a series of expertly executed bouncers?

It is obvious that Brathwaite, having carted three sixes in the previous over, backed himself to clear the fielder. But the question that will haunt him, and the fans, is whether he needed to attempt it.

Batting is at once meditative and chaotic. Pick the ball from the bowler's hand, judge the length and the line, remember the field, pick a shot, aim for a single or for the boundary, along the ground or over the top… and all these decisions in a fraction of a second. But batsmen will tell you it's not that complicated really: it's about harmonising muscle memory and instinct and game awareness. The stillest of minds produces the clearest of choices.

Batsmen will also tell you that the biggest disruptor of the process is pressure, both external and internal. The question that can never be conclusively answered is whether Brathwaite let the pressure get to him. He had batted thus far with remarkable clarity and risk assessment, starting the innings with fours hit along the ground and running plenty of singles, but, having brought the game within his grasp, why did he choose the riskiest of the options with six balls to go? You know what MS Dhoni would have done.

Some players have what we intangibly describe as a bit of genius, but no one makes it to the highest levels of sport without a generous amount of skills. What often makes the difference for great players, and great teams, though, is their ability to execute their skills when the heat is on. Glenn McGrath might have been adjudged unremarkable on the evidence of his individual balls, but that he was able to replicate it ball after ball in every situation made him the bowler few batsmen wanted to face.

And South Africa, choose whatever word you may, but their tragedy-ridden World Cup history has been paved with muddled decision-making at pressure moments. They have been spared that trauma in this World Cup but that can is now England's to carry.

There is an element of truth, as articulated by George Dobell about their inability to cope with the less-than-perfect batting conditions. But Virat Kohli pointed to an equally vital factor even before the tournament began: the World Cup is unlike any bilateral series that had formed the laboratory for the England template. Unseen, but forever palpable, hangs the enormity of the occasion, and, for this England team, the unfamiliar burden of expectation.

For four years now they have blazed a path filled with intent and glorious power-hitting. On strips shorn of grass and hope for bowlers, no total had seemed unchaseable, no batting record unattainable, and no dream beyond their grasp. Before the World Cup began, the 500 total was bandied around not as a hyperbole but as an earnestness that now feels woefully misguided.

It is true that England's defeat to Sri Lanka came on a pitch not suited to their template, but even if we leave aside the argument that a team aspiring to win the World Cup must show itself capable of chasing down 232 against one of the weaker sides in tournament, it's hard to ignore the fact that their first loss materialised on a belter that yielded Pakistan their highest ever score in the World Cup and Australia got the rougher end of the conditions at Lord's.

There is no single pattern to these losses either. Against Pakistan, it was a couple of soft dismissals when they appeared to be coasting; against Sri Lanka, there was the strange departure from the trusted method by the top order; and against Australia, the bowlers missed their length in perfectly English conditions.

Having to win the last three - four would be safer - games to win the World Cup is not an unusual situation. It's no different from the last two World Cups that featured quarter-finals. England's circumstances are slightly more debilitating, though: they have now been thrown off their game and are perhaps uncertain about how they must approach their remaining matches against India and New Zealand. The league stage was meant to be the routine first step in their coronation waltz; their fight to stay alive is an unanticipated twist that has made this tournament, headed towards deathly boredom, utterly compelling.

And in that lies possibly England's most exciting challenge, and the opportunity to make this World Cup that much more memorable. The trophy remains in sight and, unlike the teams for whom the semi-final door has opened belatedly, England's destiny lies in their own hands. It wouldn't be like Pakistan in 1992 - who are bent on enacting that script themselves - but it will be a remarkable story in itself for the favourites to rise again after falling off the perch so spectacularly.

And for inspiration, they must look no further than Ben Stokes, who has kept his rage without losing his mind, and who kept the battle alive against Sri Lanka till he was left stranded, and against Australia till he was done in by a scorcher. There might be vicious turn in Birmingham, where they play India on Sunday, and they might find themselves in a desperate situation in the last ten overs of the last qualifying match against New Zealand next week, but finding new ways when everything is on the line might push them to become the team they have aspired to become.

Coasting to a World Cup would have been fun, but scrapping to win it would be far more stirring.