T20 World Cup: Are holders England battle hardened? | Crickit
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T20 World Cup: Are holders England battle hardened?

Jun 25, 2024 06:00 AM IST

USA-West Indies 2024 will show if England’s white-ball revolution endures or T20 cricket has taken another turn

Who are better placed between the first two teams to make the semi-finals – South Africa or England? The battle-hardened Proteas who beat co-hosts West Indies and England in Group Eight, or England, who made it with relative ease by bulldozing Associate nation teams besides the Windies? And is there any such thing as peaking in tournament sport, particularly in a T20 World Cup where upsets are not so uncommon.

England's Mark Wood (R) celebrates with England's captain Jos Buttler and teammates after running out South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup (AFP)
England's Mark Wood (R) celebrates with England's captain Jos Buttler and teammates after running out South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup (AFP)

The possibility of a less fancied team causing upsets though reduces the deeper the tournament goes. USA made waves in the first round but were caught short in the Super 8s. They were among the three Associate nations England beat while the match against Scotland was washed out. West Indies are the only strong side they dominated. They lost to Australia and South Africa.

Compare this from two years ago when Ben Stokes helped England to safety in a tight run-chase against Sri Lanka and their bowlers defended a par score against New Zealand before heading into the semi-finals.

This World Cup, South Africa have been stretched to the limit. Every ounce of their mental reserves has been tested. They found a way through the up-and-down pitches in New York, defended low scores on slow pitches in the Caribbean; they even came through a tense run-chase against West Indies.

As England’s workload has been relatively light, only Jos Buttler and Phil Salt feature among the tournament’s top 10 scorers. In bowling, one has to go all the way down to Nos 17 and 18 to find England wicket-takers in Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid.

Many of their wickets have come against lesser teams. Oman was all at sea against Archer, Rashid and Mark Wood’s express pace. Chris Jordan’s hat-trick in front of his family in Barbados that brought him plenty of cheer came against USA’s tail. Rashid took no time to rush through USA’s batting with his googlies. England’s wins against Namibia was in a rain-curtailed T10 contest.

England was no match to Australia. Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone couldn’t get them over the line against South Africa. England’s most complete match was against West Indies where they chased down 180 without breaking a sweat. But that was at the tournament’s most batting-friendly surface in St Lucia and under lights.

For 10.30 am starts, the pitches have been tacky with enough spin on offer to make run-scoring challenging. It is here that England will have to find their A game, both with using spin as well as tackling it. Moeen Ali’s off-spin could be useful support to Rashid’s leg-breaks and Livingstone’s bouquet of everything. Archer hasn’t found peak rhythm yet on return from injury

BUTTLER’S FORM

What England have got going is captain Buttler’s malleable wrists depositing balls beyond different pockets of the field. A hapless Harmeet Singh was at the receiving end, picked off for five sixes in an over on Sunday.

“It was really important,” Buttler said of his innings against USA. “I’ve been feeling good all year, to be honest. You don’t always get the results, but now I feel like I’m hitting the ball well and it’s nice to get the confidence. It’s important to look after my own game as well. As much as you’re trying to be captain and have a broad view, I’m still one of 11. I’ve got to do my job.”

You could argue England have got holes in their best playing eleven. There are no left-handers in the top order other than Moeen. They have fewer wicket-taking options than some of the other contenders.

Yet, what they have is plenty of big match experience. This will be England’s fourth successive semi-final. USA-West Indies 2024 will show if England’s white-ball revolution that began under Eoin Morgan still has life or T20 cricket has taken another turn. In 2016, Carlos Brathwaite came like a bad dream. In 2021, Daryl Mitchell snatched victory out of nowhere.

To repeat what they achieved in Australia 2022, England will have to eke out a winning strategy for the conditions and push the limits. It’s something they haven’t done all that well, so far in the West Indies.

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