England begin their bid to become the first country to hold both the 50-over and T20 World Cups at the same time when they take on defending champions the West Indies in Dubai on Saturday.
It’s more than two years since Eoin Morgan’s team memorably won the 50-over title in an unforgettable final against New Zealand at Lord’s.
This time there is no Ben Stokes or Jofra Archer – the two key men who saw England over the line in that epic Super Over triumph missing this T20 World Cup through injury.
There is still plenty of talent in this England squad, so much in fact they are ranked No 1 in the world in this format.
Yet the clarity of thought and confidence that has so long been the hallmark of this group is not quite there as they start their quest to win another world title.
The feeling is that this tournament is perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Before the Covid pandemic struck 18 months ago, England were the overwhelming favourites to win the T20 World Cup that should have been staged in Australia last autumn.
Instead, they enter this tournament in the UAE without two key players in Stokes and Archer and with question marks over the make-up of their XI.
Dawid Malan, the No1-ranked T20 batsman, is expected to remain at No3 despite the fact his game is unsuited to conditions in the Emirates. Had this tournament been played in Australia as originally planned, Malan would have been in his element. Less so in Asia, where his record is modest.
Indeed, the slow, sub-continental-style pitches that will greet England in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dubai do not suit their strategy, where weaknesses in their bowling unit can be papered over by a power-packed batting line-up.
Totals in excess of 200 are unlikely at venues where the jamboree of the Indian Premier League has just rolled through and where the pitches are expected to be a lottery.
The toss, too, could decide many games, with the evening dew that makes bowling – especially spin – so hard and batting second that much easier. It’s telling that at the recent IPL, 17 of the 25 night games were won by the team chasing.
Given everything, it’s unsurprising Morgan has repeatedly insisted in the run-up to this tournament that his team are just “contenders” and India are the firm favourites.
England should still have enough to reach the semi-finals. Yet their passage would have been easier had the two qualifiers into their Super 12 group that also includes Australia and South Africa not been Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as opposed to Scotland and Namibia, who will both go into the other section alongside India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan.
As well as the Malan issue, Morgan’s own recent poor form with the bat is a worry. But in Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, they have enough batting quality to thrive.
Yet balancing the team is the real issue. England can either go batting heavy – using Liam Livingstone at No7 and combining his spin and that of Moeen to make up a fifth bowler. Or they can drop Livingstone – if they persist with Malan – and field David Willey at No7, weakening the batting but offering a potent new-ball threat in the Powerplay. Against the West Indies, England might opt for the latter.
This opener, of course, is a rematch of the last T20 World Cup final in Kolkata five years ago that the Windies famously won thanks to Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive sixes in the final over.
An ageing West Indies who have lost both warm-up matches leading into this tournament are not the force they were in 2016.
Yet their record against England in T20 World Cups – five wins from five – and the psychological effect of their victory in the final five years ago may yet play a part.
West Indies captain Kieron Pollard admitted: “It’s definitely going to be at the back of their minds. I thought what Carlos did in that last over was unbelievable. It’s something as a team we watched last night and it brought goose bumps. Those sorts of moments stick with us.”
How to watch England vs West Indies
Prior: Morgan ‘invaluable’ despite T20 struggles
Kat Lucas,isports journalist
Former England wicket-keeper Matt Prior has backed Eoin Morgan to turn his T20 form around after he admitted he will drop himself if he deems it necessary to help his side win the World Cup.
Morgan struggled with the bat in the recent IPL, making double figures just once despite Kolkata Knight Riders reaching the final, which they lost to Chennai Super Kings.
The 35-year-old begins what could well be his last World Cup with the armband having led England to the 50-over equivalent in 2019.
“Having Eoin Morgan as captain of your team is invaluable, not just the experience he has as captain and leading a team, but he’s won a World Cup already,” Prior told i. “Players will look at Eoin and they’ll have so much trust and faith in him as a leader. I’ve seen Eoin saying if he has to drop himself for the betterment of this team, that’s what will happen. He has no ego around that which is what you need from your leader.
“To play as long as he has, whether it’s Alastair Cook or Eoin Morgan, these guys go in and out of form, that’s what happens. You can’t be on top form for 20 years, it’s impossible. But I’d back him, that when England need him, it might not be the first game, it might not be the second but he’s that good that when that moment comes, you’ll want Eoin Morgan in the middle. I’d put money on that now that he plays an innings that wins a game for England.”
Dawid Malan is similarly fighting for his place in the side, scoring 11 and 18 in the two-warm up matches against India and New Zealand. In the recent T20 series against Pakistan, he was twice out for a single run and averaged less than a run a ball across his three innings.
“With Malan, it’s always going to be contentious but in a format like T20, a traditional T20 top three [batsman] is someone who goes out and smashes it everywhere,” Prior added. “He will always be looked at because he scores slowly up front and then makes it up at the end – and if he doesn’t get through that, he then scores 18 off 18 and that doesn’t look great for the team and he’s going to be under pressure.
“He’s a quality player, there’s no doubt about it, and he has been the number one T20 batsman in the world and that can’t be overlooked. England have got some serious power players in that squad and if they’re looking thinking ‘we can’t risk 18 off 18, we want someone who’s going to be dynamic from ball one.
“Having said that, if you look at the scores in the warm-up games, they’ve not been particularly high-scoring. You might need a player in that top order who’s more of an accumulator, not necessarily someone who will go ‘crash, bang, wallop’. England will be aware of that and I think because of that, Malan plays.”
Prior was speaking to i in association with bettingexpert.com
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