England and ICC global events have a troubled history. They have gone into almost every World Cup or World T20 with a massive sense of uncertainty. England have regularly changed their team make-up, captain and tactics on the eve of the tournament. It has rarely worked out. It was only when they won the 2010 World T20 in the Caribbean that this shuffling of resources paid dividends.
This time England know exactly how they are going to play, who their captain will be and broadly speaking, know their best side. Since the abysmal World Cup in Australia last year, England have embraced a new attacking approach that has seen them break new ground in white ball cricket.
Since the end of the 2015 World Cup there have been nine instances of a team scoring over 350 in ODIs, five of them have been made by England.
To put that in perspective, in the 44 years of ODI cricket up to and including last year’s World Cup, England had passed the 350-mark twice. There has been a revolution in England’s batting approach in limited overs cricket.
What has been missing from the ODI side is consistency. That commitment to attacking intent has led to some disappointing performances. England have discovered how they are supposed to play but haven’t worked out how to be consistently successful at it.
Things are slightly better in T20 cricket where England have won four of the seven games since the start of last summer, losing just two. The issue for England fans is that both those losses came in their two most recent fixtures in South Africa. But it is always difficult to judge how well a team is playing T20 International cricket because there are so few fixtures. You find yourself having to extrapolate ODI form to judge a team’s progress.
While England’s gung-ho approach in the 50-over format has seen them losing too many wickets along the way, that does not present the same issue in T20s. There a wicket means little and a long batting line up means so much more. During the games in South Africa, England had David Willey batting at 10; Willey is one of just three members of the squad who have scored a century in T20Is. They really are as a strong a batting line that England have had in the shortest format.
A top three of Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Joe Root, combined with a middle-order that has Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, leaves England ideally placed to score big runs and the long tail gives them a chance to post something competitive even if they fail. As far as batting is concerned, England have as strong a line up as any in the competition.
England’s problems lie in their bowling. A line-up featuring Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan, David Williey and Reece Topley is one that is seriously lacking in wicket-taking class. If they struggle to get early wickets and allow the opposition to get on top, England could end up chasing a target beyond their means more often than not.
The English had hoped that Steve Finn would be available, having missed the South African games through injury. His arrival would have been a massive boost. Finn’s extra pace and bounce have proved effective on Indian pitches in the past and he is always looking to get batsmen out. Now that he has not regained fitness in time for the World T20, Finn leaves a massive hole in the seam bowling stocks.
He has been replaced by Liam Plunkett who will perform a similar role, although for many it should have been Finn and Plunkett with the new ball at this tournament rather than either or.
With concerns over the quicks, a lot of pressure falls on Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. Moeen is what he is, a capable cricketer who takes wickets when the opposition tries to take liberties with his bowling. He will be steady but it is unlikely that he will put together four overs that will win a match for his team.
Adil Rashid is different. Since his recall into the England limited-over sides at the start of the 2015 summer he has consistently been England’s most likely bowler to pick up wickets. In T20s he has collected his wickets at an average of 27 with an economy rate of 7.21
And this for the most part has been on pitches that do not favour his bowling. Here he has the chance to play on pitches that will get real turn against batsmen that are looking to go after him. He is still capable of bowling bad balls and chances are that will always be the case, but this is the best chance Rashid has had in his entire career to become England’s go-to man.
At the beginning of 2016, I was incredibly bullish about England’s chances. They had gone through the whole of 2015 without losing a game of T20 and their new attacking approach looked to be paying off spectacularly. As ever with England, doubts have started creeping in and my prediction of an England victory in India is now looking a little far-fetched, not least because India are combining the prospect of home advantage with spectacular form.
It is India’s World T20 to lose but this England team should make it out of the Super 10s and into the semi-finals. From there they are just two good performances away from a win. The dream is alive, but it is a distant one.