England dismiss West Indies for 55 as T20 World Cup campaign begins with resounding win

by 24britishtvOct. 23, 2021, 7 p.m. 37
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No side in history have ever held the men’s ODI and T20 World Cups aloft simultaneously. Over the next three weeks, Eoin Morgan’s England have the chance to seal a unique double and, in the process, put the seal on the revolution that was forged from the detritus of the 2015 50-over World Cup, writes Tim Wigmore.

As England completed their final training at the ICC Academy, in preparation for Saturday's tournament opener against the West Indies, it was extraordinary to reflect on how much has changed since these two sides met in the denouement to the last T20 World Cup. When Carlos Brathwaite’s fireworks lit up the Kolkata night sky, in April 2016, T20 was a few months shy of being a teenager – a format still, in spite of its burgeoning popularity, working itself out.

As the main stages of the T20 World Cup return, 67 months later, T20 has reached full adulthood. Any certain diffidence that the format once felt, any need to prove that it was just as serious a business as the longer versions of the game, has long been shaken off.

Yes, T20 was designed by a marketing survey to be fun, and it remains that. But it is also a fiercely contested, cut-throat elite sport. Indeed, a combination of the youth of the format and the impact of forensic, data-driven analysis means that you could make a serious case that T20 is evolving at a faster rate than any other major game. A small measure of this eternal flux is that Brathwaite, who has only just turned 33 and is at full fitness, returns to the World Cup as a commentator rather than a player.

This World Cup – extended by a year due to Covid-19 – will be defined by trends that have developed since the tournament in India five years ago. In the life cycle of T20, that is ample time both for new tactics to thrive, and for new tactics to counter these. Consider how the rise of leg-spin since 2016 has seen the development of spin-hitters to attack these type of bowlers in the middle overs, and, in turn, of rapid pace bowlers – enforcers – used to combat these spin-hitters.

Even the language of the game has changed, with teams and commentators alike preoccupied by match-ups, the concept of matching your strengths in a certain area to an opponent’s weaknesses. It was once thought that T20 would remain the little brother of the cricket family; instead, it is now better thought of as a distant cousin.

England were initially slow to recognise as much. But England’s wonderful run to the T20 World Cup final in 2016 – the first indication of what Morgan’s new approach could achieve on a global stage – and the board’s new embrace of overseas T20 leagues have made English players among the most coveted on the global T20 circuit. All of England’s 15-man squad now have at least some Indian Premier League experience, which Morgan identified as one of the biggest causes for optimism. “You see guys going to the Big Bash or the IPL, and not going there to just be another player, but going there with ambitions of being the best in the tournament,” he said. “I think they’ve learnt more about their own game.

“They’ve had more clarity and experience, they’ve had more failures, they’ve had more success, they’ve experienced different tournaments around the world.”

Despite the rapidly changing nature of the format, there is a striking continuity to England’s core, which includes eight members of their 2016 campaign and nine members of their ODI World Cup success in 2019. Rather than indicating stasis, this lack of shift reflects how England’s embrace of a buccaneering style in white-ball cricket six years ago was ahead of the curve.

But if Morgan is to join MS Dhoni as the sole man to captain a victorious team in both the ODI and T20 World Cups, the side will need to be smart, too. England have the power to clear 200 with ease when conditions are right, but the IPL and the first stage indicates that 150 will often prove a winning total.

“The side who adapts to all three venues the best throughout this tournament will go on and win,” Morgan said. “We’ve shown that we can get 200 or maybe more, and also play in the dogfight game – the 130 or 140 game.”

The absences of Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes help explain why, despite their formidable batting line-up, England cannot quite be considered favourites: that tag falls to India, with their abundance of batting and bowling options and abundant IPL experience. The West Indies, whose focus on six-hitting rather than minimising dot balls has redefined the sport, are not far behind either. If a winner is to emerge from beyond this trio, Pakistan, who have excellent bowling and a side well-suited to lower-scoring games, are the most compelling option. No World Cup would be complete without a “group of death”.

England, emphatically, have landed themselves in it – with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who both have varied bowling attacks well-suited to conditions, qualifying for Group 1 from the first stage. They will join the West Indies, South Africa and Australia – who have seldom arrived at a global event looking so far short of the pace – as England’s opponents. Four victories from the five group games would make a side almost certain to reach the semi-finals, but it would be little surprise if several teams ended up with three wins and two defeats, and progression was determined on net run rate. England, rightly, will consider that their quality means that they should avoid having to worry about such permutations. And yet, for all the science in the sport, T20 remains the most volatile format.

It is a game in which one outstanding performance or simply luck – in this tournament, the toss, with fears that dew will favour chasing teams in day-night games – can have an outsized impact. That the best team does not always win, and the uncertainty this provides, is at the heart of T20’s global appeal.

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