T20 World Cup: England Preview

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The Lowdown

The world’s number-one ranked team aim to follow up their historic 2019 win in the 50-Over World Cup with success in the shortest format of the game. The squad is hugely experienced, and in theory built for massive success, but key questions remain about important players’ form, and whether the squad is suited for the slower, grippier pitches seen in the UAE.

Squad news

Who’s in

Liam Livingstone has gone from being a fringe player who looked out of place in an England jersey to utterly un-droppable. The success story of the English summer chipped in with some crucial runs in low chases against Sri Lanka, hit Haris Rauf out of Headingley, dominated the rest of the Pakistan attack on his way to England’s fastest ever T20 century (off just 41 balls) and obliterated all-comers in the new Hundred competition, hitting by far the most sixes.

Another player who forced his way into the squad through a fine Hundred is the left-arm seamer Tymal Mills. Long known as one of the fastest bowlers in England, struggles with injury and consistency had kept him out of the national team setup since 2017, before a remarkable 2021 saw him demonstrate durability (he has already played more matches this year than in any since he was diagnosed with a congenital back condition) and unerring accuracy and trickery with his death bowling.

Who’s out

Casual cricket fans will be surprised by the omission of England’s Test captain, ODI anchor and hero of the last World T20 Joe Root. However, Root hasn’t represented England in this format since 2019, with other batters’ power hitting and high strike rates being prioritised over the more conservative approach Root has largely demonstrated in T20is.

World Cup heroes Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes both miss out for health reasons. Archer is on his way back from surgery after a bizarre fish tank-related accident, and Stokes is recovering from a multitude of physical and mental health issues after a challenging year for the all-rounder.

Leg-spinner Matt Parkinson may feel aggrieved to miss out, after he had another exciting summer and showing increased versatility, in addition to turning the ball ridiculous amounts. However, Adil Rashid is preferred as the sole specialist spin bowler, and Eoin Morgan’s team will go with a pace-heavy attack.

Strengths

  • Power hitting depth: Roy and Bairstow vs pace, Moeen vs spin and Buttler and Livingstone against both types of bowling are truly world-class power hitters, capable of attacking from ball 1. England will feel able to chase any total, and may well be proved correct
  • Pace bowling variety: Woakes and Willey can take wickets by swinging the new ball, Mark Wood is one of the 3 most consistently fast bowlers in world cricket and can act as a middle-overs enforcer, and Mills, Chris Jordan and Tom Curran provide slower-balls, trickery and yorkers at the death. Jordan and Mills are also capable of express pace, and with left-armers Mills and Willey offering a change of angle, England’s pace attack has incredible variety

Weaknesses

  • Spin Bowling: Adil Rashid is a high-quality and reliable international leg-spinner, but Moeen Ali’s off-breaks can only really be used against left-handers, and Livingstone is little more than a part-timer. With the pitches in the UAE expected to be very helpful for spin bowling after the recent IPL, such a lack of depth in this department is potentially worrying. Additionally, Morgan has recently experimented with using Rashid as an opening bowler, which would make him unable to re-use the tactic of strangling middle-overs spin which he perfected with his Kolkata Knight Riders in the UAE leg of the IPL.
  • Form of important players: Eoin Morgan, the captain, cannot buy a run. It’s been almost 1 year since his last 50 in any T20 match, and he only got out of single figures once in the UAE leg of the IPL. Dawid Malan appears to have regressed since an incredible 2020 which propelled him to the highest ICC T20 batting ranking score ever. In 2021 so far he averages 26.8 at 114.52 in T20is, and has been largely unable to score as fast as reliably as he previously was in all short-form cricket. Equally worrying, while Livingstone had an incredible summer in England, he has struggled hugely for the Rajasthan Royals in the UAE since then, only scoring 17 runs in his last 4 innings.

Overall prediction

Semi-Finalists at a minimum. England should expect to advance from a group containing a dysfunctional South Africa, a mediocre Australia and probably a Sri Lanka team currently lurching between PR disasters. They are lucky to face the West Indies first off, before their side of global T20 Franchise all-stars (that only really comes together for major tournaments) has time to gel and find its best combination. If England are able to win Group A in the Super 12s, they should expect a relatively kind semi-final draw, but if the Windies are able to beat them, the two juggernauts of England and India might run into each other in the semi-final, and what happens then is anyone’s guess.

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