England have had two contrasting wins in the tournament so far, against South Africa and Afghanistan © AFP
On the eve of a critical contest that will make or break England’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals of the World T20, Joe Root took a momentary break from the high-octane, foot-to-the-floor attitude that has propelled his team’s campaign, and opted, along with a handful of his team-mates, to take the slow road to Agra for a visit to the Taj Mahal.
The three-hour journey time was more or less the same as it will take for England and Sri Lanka to face off in Delhi on Saturday, by which time the showdown between West Indies and South Africa will have given both teams a clearer idea of what exactly they need to reach the semi-finals.
However, after the frantic, error-strewn batting display that so nearly wrecked England’s tournament against Afghanistan, a day of quiet contemplation in the passenger seat was doubtless time well spent – especially for a batsman such as Root, whose calm under fire was the defining feature of England’s most outstanding effort in the competition so far.
“With the schedule being so busy, having the opportunity to do something like that, being only three hours away in a car, it was a no-brainer for me,” Root said. “Getting to experience a bit of India and obviously one of the wonders of the world, so it was a really enjoyable day and something I’m really glad I did.”
With two wins out of three in the tournament so far, England remain firmly on the road to the knockouts, albeit with their souped-up auto-rickshaw skidding uncomfortably through one or two of the tighter bends along the way.
The contrast in demeanour between England’s serene pursuit of 230 against South Africa and their near-catastrophic loss of six wickets in the space of ten overs against Afghanistan was particularly stark, and Root admitted that a degree of expertise was still lacking in their approach to each game.
“We’ve obviously not performed at our best through the whole competition yet, which, in a way, is quite exciting because that is still to come,” he said. “The really pleasing thing for me is we are winning games of cricket, which is really important in this format of the game, so as long as we continue to do that, that is all we can worry about, getting that win tomorrow to give us the best chance of qualifying.”
Sri Lanka haven’t exactly brought their A game to the competition either. They too were walloped by West Indies and run close by Afghanistan, but at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where Afghanistan fielded four spinners against England and so nearly reaped their rewards, the likelihood is that England will need to repel a similar line of attack with a much greater degree of expertise. A team with the experience of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews, to name but two, will be primed to strike if England dare to falter again.
“It’s about adapting to conditions a bit better than we did in the previous game,” Root said. “We obviously didn’t do that very well – and not having too many preconceived ideas. We saw how the pitch played there, it might be slightly different again, so when we get out there it is about making sure that we make those assessments and are very clear on how we approach the 20 overs.”
What constitutes clarity in the current England approach, however? Eoin Morgan, their captain, was adamant to the point of obstinacy on Wednesday afternoon, defending his team’s “no-fear” attitude against Afghanistan, despite the lemming-like end-game that such an approach can invite.
“Everyone has their own way of playing it, there’s no right or wrong way,” Root said. “But for me it is about trying to face as few dot-balls as possible and trying to cash in with the boundaries when they are available.
“You never want to lose wickets but you always have to look to put a score on the board,” he added. “That is what we tried to do and, obviously, our approach might have been slightly wrong in the last game and that is something we want to put right leading in to tomorrow.
“Every surface is different so it is about giving yourself the best chance on that particular pitch. Sometimes you might need to take a few extra balls to get accustomed to it but ultimately it is about playing the situation in front of you, reading the pitch and score if you are chasing and making sure you are working with your partner to whittle that down and take the game away from the opposition.”
It sounds simple when expressed with the sort of quiet authority that Root has brought to his England performances in all three formats this year. However, his crass run-out against Afghanistan denied him the chance to apply similar wisdom to Wednesday’s erratic game plan, and he couldn’t deny that the errors have continued to stack up for his team.
“If we’re being honest we probably haven’t done one part of our game consistently well,” he said. “There have been times when we’ve bowled extremely well and times when we’ve obviously batted extremely well. The exciting thing for me is that if that comes together and we can consistently do that, we’ll be a hard team to beat.”
In the meantime, England will settle back to watch how their qualification rivals fare in Nagpur, then hope that prior knowledge of the Delhi pitch can work in their favour, just as they came good at the second time of asking at the Wankhede last week.
“There’s always pressure to perform, we know it’s a must-win game but it’s been like that since we got here,” Root said. “You can only really afford to lose one game and even then you can crash out of the competition.
“It’s T20, it’s a complete knockout from here on in if we want to win it. The pressure is no more than it has been since that second game, it’s about getting over the line tomorrow.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo