World T20 Preview: England

joe-rootOur English correspondent, George Collyer, provides his take on the men in “Shock Red” ahead of the World Twenty20.

England will head into the World T20 with questions over a few places in the team following a 2-0 defeat to South Africa in their most recent T20 series. Before that, England had gone on a fantastic six game winning run, which got England fans’ hopes up of being serious contenders to win the World T20. But after losing the last three ODIs against RSA, then the two T20s, those hopes have seemingly been dashed, overcast by doom and gloom, and pre-tournament pessimism and panic has returned — which is nothing new to English limited overs cricket.

Personally, I have still got high hopes for England in the World T20. England have hit a bad patch, which was bound to happen, but hopefully a break before the tournament is what the players need to come back refreshed and firing. I believe England have mostly got the right players there, and they have got the ability to go on to win it, but that requires far better match awareness from the batsmen – minus the ridiculous collapses, and for the quicks to execute their plans, which didn’t happen in RSA.

The key for England is to not panic and start dropping a cluster of players on the cusp of the World T20; England have been down that road in virtually every one-day tournament in recent times, and it hasn’t worked. In my opinion, England have now got a squad consisting of the most talented group of white ball players they’ve ever had, but it’s how they respond under immense pressure in matches, playing in grounds with 50,000 people watching, that will count and determine England’s fate.

England’s strength lies in the batting department, packed with power and capability right down to #10. If England are to win the World T20, it will almost certainly be because of the explosive batting line-up, that can be as devastating as anyone else’s on their day, and not because of the bowling. However, what must be taken into account is that only Eoin Morgan has playing experience in the IPL and a World Cup in India. Alex Hales, Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Liam Plunkett are the only other players who’ve played in India before for England. Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan are the only others who’ve previously toured the sub-continent for England. It is new to the rest, though some have toured with either the England Lions, England Performance Programme or under-19s.

This England side are fearless, and carry no baggage with them, which should stand them in good stead. Regarding the batting line-up and the top seven, only Jason Roy will head into the tournament with doubt over his position in the team. Roy is out of form and hasn’t quite got going in T20Is, but gained England recognition through his performances in the 2014 T20 Blast. He is ideally suited to this format, which Bayliss and Morgan both know, and that still makes him a likely starter, unless he continues to be woeful in the warm-ups and James Vince performs very well to demand selection.

England could opt for Moeen Ali as opener to partner Alex Hales if Roy is still misfiring and Ali scores runs in the warm-ups. Currently he finds himself in very poor form with the bat, but Moeen up the top will give England more options regarding how they will balance the team. Irrespective of batting position, Ali’s place in the team isn’t under much danger because of his spin bowling.

England batsmen Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler are all guaranteed starters, unless injury strikes.

Alex Hales has been a crucial batsman in the T20 side for four or five years, averaging 33.94 at a strike-rate of 135.12. He is in great form at the moment and will be depended on. He scored a scintillating century in the last World T20 in Bangladesh against Sri Lanka and was a bright spark in a dismal campaign for England. He has been England’s best Twenty20 performer for a while.

Joe Root isn’t associated as being a natural T20 batsman, and isn’t a big hitter, but is a free-flowing stroke-player and will anchor the innings. He averages 34.50 at a perfectly good strike-rate of 133.72. He plays spin very well and will be vital.

Eoin Morgan is an integral part of the side, being the skipper. His experience in the IPL and know-how will be invaluable. On his day, he can be devastating and England requires him to have ‘his day’ on a regular basis in this World T20. He plays spin very well when firing.

Jos Buttler is England’s most destructive batsman and won’t hold down a rigid position under this regime. If England get off to good starts, he will be sent up the order to bolster the innings further. In my opinion, he should bat at 4, as his best innings come when he has time, and England’s hopes depend on him having a top campaign. His wicket-keeping will be just as important. Should the unthinkable happen and Buttler go down injured, they have a like-for-like replacement in Sam Billings.

England have plenty of all-rounders, but Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali will both almost certainly start. Ben Stokes hasn’t quite got going in both limited-overs formats surprisingly, but is still seen as an integral part of the side, with the capability to play destructive innings with the bat and also make things happen with the ball when things aren’t going England’s way. Moeen Ali is very much out of form with the bat, but he has performed consistently with the ball, being economical, which will keep him in the side, especially in conditions which will require two spinners.

England’s bowling is the biggest weakness. With Steven Finn now ruled out of the World T20, England’s attack somewhat lacks potency and real quality. Adil Rashid will be crucial in Indian conditions with his leg-spin. He’s a crucial part of the England side, and played the Big Bash to hone in on his T20 bowling. Hopefully it proves beneficial to him and England, as he will viewed as England’s trump card and must perform consistently. Jordan, Topley and probably Willey will form the rest of England’s attack.

Chris Jordan isn’t highly regarded by fans, including myself. To date, he’s had lots of poor performances with both bat and ball, but England’s management see potential in him not only with the ball, but as an all-rounder, capable of bowling at the death and clearing the ropes with the bat. His super over against Pakistan and performance in the 1st T20 against SA have reinstated their belief, despite poor performances around that. He will start.

Reece Topley had a very good ODI series against SA, but followed it up with a very poor T20 series, bowling a very costly last over in the 1st T20 against SA which lost England the game. However, he’s a bowler with plenty of variations which should play a very useful part in India. He needs to add pace to his stock deliveries, but his slower balls are very effective and he has the potential to be a well-rounded limited-overs bowler.

David Willey is very likely to play now Finn is ruled out. He was dropped for the 2nd T20 against SA following a string of poor performances on the SA tour. His strongest format is T20s, where he swings the new ball and is a big hitting batsman, but England haven’t utilised his batting at all, so it’s pivotal that his bowling is on point leading into the World T20. He has had success for England.

Liam Plunkett only came in as a replacement for Finn, so he will be at the back of the pecking order. Personally, I’d have him in the side ahead of Jordan, as he’s performed better and offers something different, but that won’t happen.

Liam Dawson is there as cover for Ali and Rashid. His inclusion was strange, given that he’s uncapped and replaced last years leading T20 Blast wicket-taker as 3rd spinner, whilst he only played two T20 Blast matches without taking a wicket last season, but England highly regard all-rounders right now to provide extra batting depth if they play and he had a good tour against Pakistan A for England Lions in the UAE.

England’s fielding has to improve considerably if they are to go far in the tournament. As the cliché goes, catches win matches. Trevor Bayliss has put a lot of emphasis on England’s fielding since he became coach, but England still drop far too many catches and make errors in the field, surprisingly, considering they are a young and athletic side. Paul Collingwood is joining the England team for the World T20 to focus on England’s fielding. Hopefully his hiring pays off because it needs to: with an average bowling attack, England’s fielders can ill-afford to shell chances and must back up the bowlers. It cost them dearly in the last World T20.

England will go into the World T20 as underdogs, but this is a fearless and powerful side of whom other teams will be wary, despite lots of players having little or no experience in Indian conditions. The talent is there. The ability is there. Bayliss has coaching experience in the IPL with the Kolkata Knight Riders, and both he and Morgan must assess the varying conditions well. What will stay consistent is the small boundaries across India and the lightning outfields, but playing spin well and handling pressure will be ever so crucial. We will see how England respond to it all.

Good luck to England. Hopefully they perform when it counts.


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