Butcher: How England play spin will be vital
Dogma has tended to hold sway over reason for England at ICC global events. What planning there has been has usually been at least four years off the pace, its loopholes exposed by the lightest touch of scrutiny – take their squad for the inaugural World T20 in 2007, for instance, filled to the gunwales with job-a-day county pros, such as Darren Maddy and Jeremy Snape, who had turned a few tricks in the early seasons of the Twenty20 Cup, but rarely many heads. Or, if you prefer, take any World Cup squad from 1996 to 2015 inclusive.
There has, of course, been one notable exception to this rule. When England won the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010, they did so with a fresh team and a fresh attitude, albeit one that was forced upon them by the haplessness of their chosen few in the weeks and months leading up to the event.
It took an infamous warm-up match against England Lions in Abu Dhabi to instigate wholesale change. Out went Jonathan Trott and Joe Denly, in came Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb, and, with Ryan Sidebottom’s left-arm seam leading the line superbly, England suddenly hit their stride to awesome and insuperable effect.
With that in mind, England’s 2016 T20 squad is a curious hybrid of long-term planning and short-term expediency. This time the shift in attitude and personnel has had 12 turbo-charged months in which to bed in – even though it took yet another calamitous campaign at the 2015 World Cup to hammer home the need for England to get with the times.
So, can the forces of nature that have been unleashed by England’s white-ball revolution be harnessed in time for them to make an impression at the sixth World T20? Or is it too little, too late, in a form of the game that has evolved beyond recognition in the six years since England last emerged victorious?
The talent at the team’s disposal, for once, cannot be disputed. England may have dropped the ball politically when it comes to T20 cricket, but their invention of the format back in 2003 does give them one remaining head-start. Thirteen years is long enough to bring through an entire generation of players who have grown up with the game’s new realities, and are not afraid of its possibilities. That is as good a starting point as they can hope for.
At the helm
Eoin Morgan was hospital-passed the England World Cup captaincy after the extraction of Alastair Cook in December 2014, and to nobody’s real surprise, he damn near dropped the ball in that calamitous campaign Down Under. But to the eventual credit of the ECB – and in particular the incoming director of cricket, Andrew Strauss – they didn’t just stick with him in the aftermath, they broadened his remit to cover all limited-overs cricket, and the upsurge in the team’s fortunes is plain to see. Morgan leads with authority, knows his role and, crucially, knows when to defer to his young thrusters, most notably in Dubai when he pushed Jos Buttler up the order and watched him scorch England’s fastest ODI hundred. Like Paul Collingwood in 2010, the more anonymous he remains, the better England are likely to be doing.
The number of England’s players who have yet to play a full international fixture in India. Morgan, with eight games spread across three visits – including a late entry to the World Cup campaign in 2011 after he broke a finger before the event – is the most experienced campaigner. He is also the only one to have featured in the IPL. Joe Root (7), Liam Plunkett (6), Jos Buttler (5) and Alex Hales (3) have played 21 games in India between them. The rest? Zilch.
The most awesome of the talents among England’s newly-unleashed T20 generation, and the likeliest candidate to win a contest single-handedly. Buttler possesses power in abundance, and a repertoire of strokes that can blow the mind when he is in full flow. His tale rather epitomises that of this England team as a whole – they are definitely going places in one-day cricket, but are they really there yet? Buttler’s maiden stint in the IPL will follow hot on the heels of this campaign. What England would give for that experience already to be in his memory banks.
A veteran of the 2009 World T20, in which he wheeled through his overs with dignity but rarely looked like a world-beating option. But just watch him go now, a weapon transformed thanks to a career-moulding stint with Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League. Rashid has found control to back up the cunning variations that he’s always been able to deliver, and rare is the batsman who trusts himself to hit him out of the attack. This tournament has the potential to cement his breakthrough year.
Tall, gangling and improving all the time, Topley’s ability to bend the ball back into the right-handers from a cloud-snagging left-arm action gives England another formidable option. If he lands his length from the outset, it can often take a new batsman several deliveries to line up a suitable response. Another man whose inexperience could prove his undoing, but in Topley’s case, he has only just turned 22. You’ve got to start somewhere, so why not at the top?
Can the opening pair fire?
Where Kieswetter and Lumb blazed a trail in 2010, are Jason Roy and Alex Hales really ready to follow? The pair have bedded into a comfortable and productive alliance at the top of England’s order since coming together at the start of last summer, but neither has quite hit the top notes of destruction on which they’ve built their reputation in county cricket. And, if they fail – or fail to get a move on, which is even more of a sin in T20 cricket – is the middle order primed to hit the ground running, as a certain Kevin Pietersen proved to be in that triumphant campaign …?
World T20 history
Decidedly mixed. Their 2010 victory was a triumph of expediency, but they’ve let themselves down in the other four events to date. The best of the rest was unquestionably their 2009 campaign on home soil, when their quick bowlers laid out the strategies that would help to deliver glory in the Caribbean a year later. However, their unfortunate rain-affected exit at the hands of West Indies remains utterly overshadowed by their opening-round capitulation to Netherlands. The fact that England repeated that ignominy in their most recent World T20 fixture, at Chittagong in 2014, is proof of a team who haven’t always had their game-brains switched on.
In their Own Words
“Sometimes, having experience, particularly in India, can almost scar your perception and [style of] playing within the tournament. Having a little bit of naivety with a huge amount of talent isn’t a bad thing.” Eoin Morgan on England’s innocence abroad.
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo