COMMENT:

At breakfast on the morning of the England v Australia game, an Englishman approached Australia's Mitchell Starc and told him he was "eating too much to bowl well". It was possibly the most disastrous attempt at sledging in cricket history.

Cut to Lord's later in the day. The off-stump yorker bowled by Starc to remove Ben Stokes in this ominous 64-run defeat was deserving of a place in an art gallery. It was sublime bowling: a mesmerising precision strike on the base of the third stump.

A "full English" at the breakfast buffet might have stopped it happening. Starc, though, was having only poached eggs when heckled.

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Until that possible "ball of the tournament", Stokes, who never backs down, was limping between the wickets with tight calves and looking every inch the classic Lord's hero. If only. Stokes kicking his bat across the ground in despair was an apt summary of England's mounting woes at this World Cup.

As a third defeat in seven group matches loomed, England's best player could only boot the chunk of the wood he had used in vain as leader of the resistance.

When he retrieved his bat from the turf, he left the field shaking his head — and was still shaking it as he walked past the portraits in the Long Room. "It was a good ball, yeah.

Ninety-miles-an-hour, reversing yorker," he told us later, while Starc was regaling Australian journalists with the story of the rather rubbish breakfast sledge.

Consolations are few as England stumble into Sunday's game against India at Edgbaston desperate to stop their final group match against New Zealand becoming a do-or-die ordeal.

Stokes was one source of comfort. Everybody loves an injured warrior standing up to Aussie animosity. It required a thing of beauty at the end of the 37th over to end Stokes's knock of 89.

The duel between Starc and Stokes was a pleasing sideshow for England supporters as their team's innings fell away. When Jos Buttler flick-pulled a nothing ball from Marcus Stoinis to Usman Khawaja just inside the deep-square boundary rope, Stokes looked horribly lonely as the last obstacle between Australia and a major psychological victory.

England's sweeping manifesto promises are in doubt. Eoin Morgan's grand design is at risk of blowing up before the knockout rounds. Defeats by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia will have rattled England confidence.

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Pre-tournament favouritism, world No 1 status and a flow of rhetoric about how they have reinvented white-ball cricket dumped a hefty burden of expectation on Morgan's team. At this point, it looks back-breaking.

In Birmingham and Durham — and, perhaps, beyond — we will see which of these players are capable of delivering on their own high ideal of relentless aggression.

Stokes, who bowled Khawaja during a superbly fiery spell, is not one of those Morgan ought to have concerns about.

"Ben contributes in all three facets of our game plan," Morgan said. ''He's obviously in very, very good form, and it's partly disappointing that an innings like that almost goes to one side because we lost the game."

As Starc eased past Jofra Archer as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament, Stokes emerged after the game to stiffen England's resolve.

He brought to the post-match debrief the implacable will that makes him so useful in an eyeballing contest with the Australians. Only he, you might think, would lay on the ground casually eating a banana while a physiotherapist worked frantically on his calf.

"It wasn't cramp, it was just tight calves," he said. ''Nothing to worry about. I get it now and again."

- Telegraph Group Ltd