Tim Southee claimed 7-33 and skipper Brendon McCullum blasted the fastest half-century in tournament history as the Kiwis shot out England for 123 and romped home in the 13th over in a ridiculously one-sided match in Wellington.
By comparison, Eoin Morgan and his team put up a better batting display against Sri Lanka, posting 309-6, even though it was not enough to avert a nine-wicket defeat.
“In some ways, this was a more damaging defeat than the one against New Zealand,” Atherton wrote in the Times newspaper.
“It was possible to park that match out of the mind: an aberration, a one-off calamity, and against one of the most fancied and confident teams in the tournament,” the former opener said of the earlier defeat.
“This was worse. It lasted longer and therefore England’s defects were plain to see, and against a team who most would have said are slightly past their best and unfancied.”
England, who registered their only win in four outings against lowly Scotland, can still progress to the quarter-finals of a tournament they have never won but the weaknesses are too glaring for Atherton.
“…(Paceman) James Anderson looks a shadow of his potent self, unable to swing the white Kookaburra as others have done. This looks, at the moment, like a one-day tournament too far for him,” he said.
“Not that Stuart Broad is any more incisive: between them in almost 60 overs they have taken just four wickets at 92 runs apiece. And this was supposed to be England’s strong suit.”
Morgan and his team face Bangladesh in their next Pool A match on March 9 and Atherton, who played 115 tests in the 1989-2001 period, advocated a top order re-jig.
“Alex Hales must be given a go at the top of the order alongside (Moeen) Ali, with Ian Bell moving to first drop,” he said, contrasting England’s match to the slugfest between New Zealand and Australia that took place in Auckland a day earlier.
“As England’s World Cup hopes hang by a thread, doing nothing is not an option. If Australia and New Zealand gave us a glimpse of the future this weekend, it is past failings that are staring England in the face again.”
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O’Brien)