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15th April 2016

Positives for England despite World T20 despair

It might have ended in defeat, but England’s World T20 brought some positives for the men

Even though England were denied the 2016 Men’s World T20 title by an inspired West Indies, their development over the past year is highly encouraging

Six, six, six, six. The West Indies required 19 runs off the final six deliveries of their innings to snatch the Men’s World T20 title from England. Thanks to Carlos Brathwaite’s majestic hitting, however, only four balls of Ben Stokes’s final over were needed. It was an aptly thrilling conclusion to a topsy-turvy final and a pulsating tournament, but that was little comfort to the distraught Stokes and his teammates.

With his first, third and fourth deliveries of the 20th over, Stokes missed the fine margins required of death-bowlers nowadays, turning what he had hoped would be snarling, toe-crushing yorkers into leg-stump half-volleys that, such is the nature of T20, are routinely dispatched for six. Brathwaite’s second six, however, was astonishing: a leading edge that sailed over the off-side boundary for six, a true testament to the power and bat speed that Brathwaite possesses.

England batted first and started poorly. Jason Roy went for a duck, and Alex Hales and the England skipper, Eoin Morgan, went cheaply too, leaving England on 23-3. The England batsmen struggled with the mystery spin, or lack of spin, of Samuel Badree, who bowled from the start and took 2-16 in his four overs.

Then a partnership of 61 between Joe Root and Jos Buttler brought England back into the game; Root and Buttler sensibly built a partnership yet complemented that by scoring heavily off bad balls in order to create momentum and increase the run rate; in particular, Buttler whacked full deliveries from Sulieman Been, the West Indies’ second spinner, for six.

Even with the dismissal of Buttler for a brisk 36 (off 22 balls), England had recovered from their slow start to reach 110-4 midway through the 14th over. Root had, by this time, reached 50 off 33 balls, the joint fastest half-century in a World T20 final, along with Kumar Sangakkara. Then the wickets of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali fell within three balls, and Root soon followed after an unsuccessful ramp shot meant he was caught at short fine-leg. Good hitting from David Willey, however, ensured England reached 155-9 from their 20 overs. This was a total that, after the game, Morgan felt was up to as much as forty runs below par for the wicket.

The start of the West Indies’ innings could not have possibly gone for better for England. Morgan’s decision to have Root bowl the second over, while the Powerplay’s fielding restrictions applied, proved a master stroke. Root took the wicket of Johnson Charles with his first ball and then, two deliveries after that, that of Chris Gayle, the man who had put England’s bowlers to the sword with a 47-ball hundred in both sides’ first match of the tournament, which the West Indies won. When Willey dismissed Lendl Simmons in the next over, the West Indies were reeling at 11-3.

Marlon Samuels’ superb 85 not out from 66 balls, which saw him named Man of the Match, with some support from Dwayne Bravo (25 from 27 balls), enabled the West Indies to have a chance come the final over, a chance that Brathwaite took with aplomb.

Despite the two defeats to the West Indies in the 2016 World T20, England’s performances in the tournament, and across all formats of the game in the past year, have been invigorating, and imply that success is a matter of when, not if, for this side.

In this year’s World T20, the game against South Africa, in particular, will live long in the memory. Chasing a score of 229-4, England plundered 89 runs in the first six overs, mainly thanks to Jason Roy’s 43 off 16 balls, and they reached their target with a couple of balls to spare, with Joe Root top-scoring again, with 83 from 48 deliveries.

Even in the match against Afghanistan, where the top order failed to perform—England were 85-7 at one point—Ali and Willey guided England to 142-7; in the past, the side might have collapsed to a score below 100, but this side are a resolute outfit now, and the depth of England’s batting line-up is a particular strength—in the final, Adil Rashid, an all-rounder by trade, came in to bat at 11. England’s bowlers restricted Afghanistan to 127-9 from their 20 overs, thereby preventing an embarrassing defeat that would have severely damaged England’s progress in the tournament, an unfortunate hallmark of England’s previous tournament campaigns.

What made England’s performances in this tournament even more refreshing and exciting was that they were in stark contrast to those of 2015’s Cricket World Cup. In that tournament England were frankly atrocious, and how they played the game was antediluvian compared to that of the likes of New Zealand and Australia. Whereas Brendon McCullum and David Warner, to name just a couple, made the most of the fielding restrictions by attacking the opposition bowlers from the start, England attempted to steadily build an innings and then only accelerate in the final ten overs. It didn’t work: Australia beat England by 111 runs and England were skittled out for 123 by New Zealand.

For England the nadir was still to come, however. A defeat to Bangladesh confirmed England’s exit from the competition at the group stage. Only seven teams were in the group, and the top four qualified for the next stage, but England weren’t one of them. Victories against Scotland and Afghanistan were scant consolation.

The one positive that sprang from England’s miserable campaign was that the nature of the defeats made the selectors and coaching staff realise that England needed a drastic change in philosophy if they were going to challenge for trophies and beat the best in all formats of the game.

That change in philosophy was vindicated by England’s World T20 semi-final defeat of New Zealand, a complete performance with both bat and ball. Stokes and Jordan’s death-bowling stifled the Kiwis. From 89-1 after ten overs, the New Zealand batsmen stumbled to a total of 153-8. In reply, England hammered the New Zealand attack, one that had bowled India out for 79 and restricted Australia to 134-9 earlier in the tournament. Jason Roy was the linchpin; he scored 78 off 44 balls, his barrage of fours and sixes leaving the Kiwi bowlers dumbfounded. From the tenth over, England were in cruise control and they reached their target with 17 balls remaining.

England’s achievements since the spring of 2015 demonstrate the rapid progression from their dismal 50-over World Cup campaign. Jos Buttler has scored 46-ball and 66-ball centuries against Pakistan and New Zealand, respectively, since then. In the past year England have made scores of 399-9, 355-5, 408-9, 350-3 (in 44 overs), 365-9 (46 overs) in One-day Internationals (ODIs). And in test cricket, England secured impressive series victories away to South Africa and at home to Australia.

Therefore, despite the heroics of Brathwaite and the pain of seeing a world title once again slip away from its grasp, English cricket has rarely been in a better position on the international scene. Thanks to a young, fearless, resolute, and most importantly, extremely talented squad of players, that promise has translated into very good results, and international trophies and world-number-one rankings are surely close at hand.

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