One more win and England will have pulled off one of the more remarkable turnarounds in cricket. On 13 March, 2015, they played their last match of the World Cup against Afghanistan, a match that was a dead rubber thanks to a defeat to Bangladesh a few days earlier. England won, and won well, but it was a little too late.
In the aftermath of that embarrassing World Cup exit, England parted company with coach Peter Moores and managing director Paul Downton. Both had been under enormous pressure during and after the World Cup but Downton’s position became pretty much untenable following the comments he made after that loss to Bangladesh.
“The impact the T20 game has had on 50-over cricket I think has accelerated in the last year or two. Last summer it was about scoring 300,” Downton said. “Now it’s about scoring 350 or 400.My perception is that what has happened in the last year or two is that the crossover between Twenty20 and 50-over cricket has accelerated enormously.”
That comment about T20 cricket changing the game “in the last year or two” made jaws hit the floor. The perception that Downton was out of touch with modern cricket already existed, he was working in The City before his appointment; those comments confirmed them. He was fired less than a month later.
His removal was the beginning of the end for Moores as well, he was very much Downton’s man. Moores had been described by Downton as “the outstanding coach of his generation”. After a year of indifferent results, especially in white-ball cricket, Moores was a dead man walking. He was fired just 30 days after Downton when it became clear that Andrew Strauss was taking over from Downton and he had decided Moores was part of the past, not someone for the future.
From the moment Strauss took over he made it clear Tests weren’t the only type of cricket and that it was just as important to win ODIs and T20s as it was to win the Ashes. He spoke of how the right players had to be given the freedom to play exciting cricket.
“Our country is generally is quite red-ball focussed, but that doesn’t mean it has to be at the expense of white-ball cricket. That’s one of my focuses — to re-balance and give it more importance,” Strauss told BBC’s Test Match Special in November.
But more than all of those things that Strauss said, coaches Trevor Bayliss, Paul Farbrace and captain Eoin Morgan made it sure that the team backs it up on field.
It is rare for England to go into a global event with a plan that is at the cutting edge of world cricket and with a solidity of selection where everyone knows their roles. The last time these two things happened was at the ODI World Cup in 1992. Back then England had made the final. In this event they have done the same.
One more win and England have gone from the laughing stock of the 2015 World Cup to the winners of the 2016 World T20 in less than 13 months. This team is not based around the core of a Test side, rather one that has been picked because they have the best chance of winning a T20 tournament. The thinking has been clear and unwavering. This is a flawed side in some ways, but an exciting one that is comfortable in own skin. It is an awful cliché but they are playing the game their way.
This group of England players will take the field in front of 65,000 people in Kolkata on prime time TV in India. They will never have a better chance for exposure in India — the 21st century home of cricket — than on Sunday night at Eden Gardens. They have the chance to show the world that finally, 13 years after they invented it, English cricket has worked out Twenty20.
Yes, they won the World T20 in 2010 but then they stumbled on a winning formula rather than planning for it a year out. In the West Indies, six years ago, England picked Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb for the first time in the first match of that tournament. In the last T20 international before that event England had Jonathan Trott and Joe Denly as an opening pair, neither have ever played T20 cricket for England again.
It was a great tournament win, but England changed things at the last minute and it worked out rather than changing things at the last minute and it going wrong. The return to type in the years that followed showed that they hadn’t really learned anything.
There were many calls for James Anderson and Stuart Broad to be in this side but England held firm. They did not turn to Test match bowlers to win them a limited overs tournament. Anderson has not played a T20 for England since 2009, Broad hasn’t taken part in one since 2014. England have moved on from them in white-ball cricket and while some wanted them to blink and recall them they held firm and it has worked out.
One more win and they have been completely justified it looking beyond the best individuals and at a team that would be competitive. In fact, they already have been.
Words mean nothing, actions are what count. England have said what they would do and then done it. Win or lose they have proved a point about their commitment to white-ball cricket, but victory would be like an exclamation mark that is 100 feet tall.