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Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, has urged his players not to get ahead of themselves as they build towards a World T20 semi-final against New Zealand in Delhi on Wednesday, despite the understandable excitement that has been generated by the thrilling 10-run victory over Sri Lanka that secured their progression to the last four.
“We haven’t won anything,” Bayliss told reporters at the team hotel on the morning after the night before, as England prepared to down tools for a couple of days and recover from a gruelling qualification campaign in which they were stretched to the limit by each of their four opponents, West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
“In these tight tournaments you can’t get through to the semis unless you are playing good cricket, and that’s what we set out to do to give ourselves a chance,” Bayliss said. “But it’s about peaking at the right time. I wouldn’t say we’ve played the perfect game yet – coaches are always looking for that absolutely perfect game, I don’t think it’s ever been played – but it’s what any team is striving to do.”
There is, however, a sense that England are getting more right than wrong as the sharp end of the campaign approaches, and Bayliss admitted that the struggles that his players have so far endured can only harden their resolve, both for the coming knockouts and for their longer-term goals in all forms of cricket.
After losing heavily against West Indies in their opening fixture in Mumbai, where Chris Gayle’s 47-ball century showed up the inadequacy of their 182 target, England then chased down a tournament-record 230 to beat South Africa before shipping six wickets in the first ten overs to flirt with disaster against Afghanistan. The manner in which they then held their nerve to see off Sri Lanka in a tense finale on Saturday was, Bayliss suggested, proof that the team was learning from its previous mistakes and experiences.
“The more you are put in those pressure situations, the more you can win some of those matches,” he said. “It makes the players into better players in the long term. Once you’ve been in those pressure situations, you can draw on those experiences from before. The game against Afghanistan, I mean, that was as big a pressure playing against them as it was playing against South Africa.”
As for the agonies of sitting on the sidelines during the nail-biting final stages of the Sri Lanka match, Bayliss was phlegmatic about his role at such moments.
“You can send out one or two messages every now and then, but it’s usually on the lines of ‘this is an option, you might try that’. At the end, it’s the captain’s call out in the middle. But that doesn’t make it any easier or harder.
“Sitting there I’m like everyone else, churning up inside, hoping that they can do what they’ve got to do to win the game. From my point of view, I think that if the players look to the side and the reserves, or if we’re batting, if they look to the left or the right and the coach is a nervous wreck, it doesn’t make it any easier for them. That’s how I approach it, and so far so good.”
England’s progression so far, Bayliss added, was proof that his pre-tournament call for “brave cricket” had been acted upon, and he challenged the side to keep learning and keep adapting to the conditions with which they will be confronted.
That process will begin with another anticipated trial by spin against New Zealand in Delhi, and Bayliss was adamant that England would not be underestimating the challenge that will be posed by a side that confounded expectations, and read their conditions supremely, to claim four wins out of four and top spot in Group 2.
“New Zealand are very – don’t take this the wrong way – they’ve got a very working-class mentality,” Bayliss said. “They’re hard grinders, they’ll do what they need to do to win. And they’ve always been like that, whether it’s their rugby or their cricket. So they’re going to be very difficult to beat.”
Their most startling moment in the campaign so far came in their opening fixture against India in Nagpur, when they picked three spinners, omitted their star new-ball pairing of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and routed the hosts for 79 on a raging turner.
“Yeah, they’ve adapted to conditions very well,” Bayliss said. “If that means leaving out two of their best bowlers, that’s what they do. There’s a lesson for everyone that you’ve got to play the conditions as well in this game.”
England haven’t yet faced a pitch anything like as spin-friendly as those in New Zealand’s half of the draw, which could place them at a disadvantage should they make it through to the final in Kolkata, where plentiful slow and low turn has been on offer.
“If we do play on that sort of a wicket, you’ve still got to have that positive mindset, and work out how you can actually score runs and do enough to win on those wickets,” Bayliss said. “It’s been a challenge from the point of view of how young and inexperienced the players are. But with experience those things will come.
“It’s good to see the players learning because we do speak about it. When you win, the players can look back and say ‘that’s the way to go’. We can play aggressive cricket and be smart at the same time. There’ll be times in the future that we stuff up and we won’t play smart cricket. That’s just the game, even experienced teams do that. But it’s about being mentally aggressive.”
But, Bayliss reiterated, England’s mental challenge starts with the management of expectations, which have already started to get quite excitable to judge by his overnight communications from home and via social media.
“That might be the difference between Australia and England,” he joked. “Yes. I’ve already read one or two text messages I’ve got this morning from England… we’ve got to understand we haven’t won anything yet.
“It can be difficult at times when you’re reading newspapers, watching television reports and getting text messages from home but that’s a learning process. You have to go through that to see how difficult it can be. If they can get through that, well, that’s a very good sign.
“We’ve made the semi-final, yes, that’s a good achievement. Let’s not go over the top. If we lose on Wednesday or lose the final, no one ever remembers the runners-up or the semi-finalists. It’s a good achievement, but let’s keep everything in perspective. It’s just a semi-final we’ve got to.”
As if to prove the point, Bayliss then observed that he had been in charge of Sri Lanka back in 2010, when England beat them in the semi-final in St Lucia, en route to their first and only global ICC trophy.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “You have to realise you can’t win everything, even though it’s what we’re striving to do. No one goes through their career with a perfect record, but you’ve got to give yourself the best opportunity to win as many times as you possibly can.
“That’s about being in a good head space and not putting too much pressure on yourself. That allows you to play good cricket and, if you can do that, you give yourself a chance to win.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo