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England’s World Cup Jigsaw Puzzle: A Missed Opportunity

by Connor

England ended the T20 series in India frustrated. They had their chance and squandered it after a bright start and some promising performances to take them 2-1 up in the series. Whereas India experimented and flourished, England compromised and paid the price, eventually losing 3-2.

Much was made of Malan’s slow starts which stalled England’s progress after the loss of their first wicket. His career to date shows that he starts at a pedestrian pace then accelerates rapidly as his innings progresses. In the final game of the series, Malan became the first batsman to surpass 1,000 T20 international runs, he is the best there is according to the ICC rankings. If his approach is not the way that England want to play the game, that’s really quite odd.

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Yes, you can argue that Malan wastes precious deliveries if he gets out before accelerating but no batsman in T20 cricket produce the goods on such a consistent basis. The final T20 showed just how potent Malan can be when his gameplan comes off as he contributed 68 from 46. The irony here is that only two players scored at a faster rate in the match and the second of those was Sam Curran who scored just 14. Malan deserves a fair chance to shine in a favourable role for England. That shouldn’t be at the detriment of the team but for the benefit of both team and player. Averaged over his T20 international career, his strike rate is 144.3. By contrast, Buttler strikes at 140, Stokes at 136. The notion that his slow starts are an issue is a red herring.

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That brings me to England’s shrinking violet, Ben Stokes.

Throughout the series, Stokes had little opportunity to showcase his world class talent. Batting at number 6 and bowling a handful of overs didn’t give England’s recent hero the chance to shine. If Malan lacks impetus at the start of his innings, the logical thing to do would be to move Stokes up the order, into a position where he can have real impact on the game and give England momentum.

Batting at number 6, Stokes finishes the series striking at 150. Yet, despite his impressive strike rate, he didn’t impact the series in the way that only Stokes can. I am pleased to see that he has been moved up the order for the ODI series and I hope that he can make some significant contributions in the three match series.

India’s selection of Ishan Kishan showed how a rotation policy can produce great results. The emergence of Kishan onto the international stage is no surprise to those who have followed his explosive career with Mumbai Indians in the IPL. He came into the game in fine form, replacing KL Rahul, having recently scored 173 from just 93 deliveries for Indian state side Jharkhand, contributing to a decisive victory over Madya Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Playing in his preferred spot as an opener in the 2nd T20, Kishan scored 56 from 32, at a strike rate of 175, he then contributed just 4 in the 3rd T20 before succumbing to injury. Aged just 22, he is one to watch in years to come.

Suryakumar Yadav then burst onto the scene with two explosive innings, smashing 57 and 32 in his two contributions with the bat. Yadav approached the crease confidently with an average strike rate of 185 – the kind of intent that fans and pundits alike criticised Malan for lacking. I was surprised to learn that Yadav is 30-years old – he has been made to wait for his debut, perhaps that explains why he’s so hungry.

These explosive innings from Kishan and Yadav alike gave Kohli and Sharma time to feel their way into the innings. It also ensured that India’s innings didn’t stall after the fall of an early wicket. It is reason, perhaps, for moving Malan up to open alongside Roy who is no slouch, whilst Butler could give England momentum at #3 and Stokes would then be able to come in, as needed, to deliver a finishing blow against a deflated bowling attack.

It would have been nice to see England experiment with some of the talent which was left on the sidelines too. In this jam packed World Cup year the word ‘rotation’ has been thrown around like it’s going out of fashion and whilst I am supportive of the policy as a whole, it now seems to be a convenient ideal rather than a reflection of reality.

The need to provide backup to Adil Rashid makes England’s continued refusal to play Moeen Ali ever more confusing. Ali is a utility player, he can bat in pretty much any position asked of him and he is more than useful with the ball. T20 is not his strongest format and so the selectors may prefer to look elsewhere, to a less experienced second spinner who is more suited to T20s. Selecting Moeen Ali in the squad then failing to use him is strange, especially considering the mistakes that England made when it was Ali’s turn to return home during the India test series.

If not Ali, would it not have made sense to give Liam Livingstone the chance to stake his claim for a place in the team later this year? His recent form in the BBL shows that he is more than capable of performing in high pressure environments in the aggressive manner that Eoin Morgan demands. Whilst Livingstone scored successive ducks against South Africa in 2017, he has developed considerably since. In a World Cup year, there is surely no better time to give him a second chance in the England team. His ability to bowl leg spin will also be of note to the selectors too. If Moeen Ali is not the man, Livingstone is surely next in line.

England’s forgotten man, Chris Woakes, hasn’t played a game this winter. He was unfortunate to miss out in Sri Lanka as he self-isolated following Moeen Ali’s positive test but was then overlooked in India before flying home as part of the rotation policy. Ironically, he is flying back to India to join up with Delhi Capitals for the IPL – if he shows good form, Woakes will be another option for England’s selectors to ponder. Just last summer Chris Woakes was voted Professional Cricketers’ Association Player of the Year and while his talents may be better suited to English conditions, he would give this England side some much needed experience with both bat and ball.

To use 12 players over 5 games suggests that England had a settled side at the top of their game. The evidence suggests that they still have problems to solve. Playing in India is almost always going to favour selecting a second spinner which England failed to do in any of the 5 matches whilst Ali and Livingstone warmed the bench. Selecting Matt Parkinson, a promising spinner who is perhaps lacking with the bat, seems a step too far for this England side where scoring runs down the order is a must.

Moving forward, it will be the team with strength in depth in the World Cup, not the best eleven, that prevails. It is a long tournament after a long year and some COVID-restrictions will likely still be in place – having good backup to your best team puts less pressure on the players

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Questions remain about several other players within the England setup, notably Sam Curran and Chris Jordan who have struggled to assert themselves whilst Mark Wood will always be accompanied by a note of caution such is his history with injuries. Meanwhile, Jofra Archer is battling a persistent elbow injury. It is to be hoped that he recovers fully this time with a period of rest whilst he sits out the ODI series with India. However, even if he comes back fully recuperated, this year is a demanding one and others may suffer a similar fate.

Livingstone, Woakes and Ali will surely have a role to play if England are successful in the T20 World Cup later this year. Topley and Billings will also be needed if Archer’s struggles continue, or in Billings case, if a batsman is dropped or rested. Before the tournament begins on 18th October, England have just 8 T20 matches left to give their understudies match practice.

The T20 series in India was a missed opportunity. England passed up on the chance to test out other members of the squad in the conditions they will face at the World Cup, choosing instead to use just 12 players in the 3-2 defeat. Let’s hope it is a decision they do not live to regret.

My World Cup England XI

Butler (W)
Morgan (c)

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