Four games into the tournament, England’s T20 World Cup journey could hardly have gone much smoother.
With injury ruling Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran out of the tournament, England have still managed to put together a team more than capable of winning a second consecutive major ICC white-ball trophy. Four convincing victories have practically assured qualification to the semi-finals with a Super 12 game to spare.
But their win over Sri Lanka – their most recent game – came at a cost with left-arm quick Tymal Mills picking up a quad injury that rules him out of the tournament.
The timing is cruel for Mills. He has long been one of the best English T20 quicks going with a record at the death that stands up against the very best in the format’s history. But injuries restricted him to four T20Is for England before this year’s T20 World Cup, with no appearances at all in over four years.
Parachuted straight into the England XI for the start of the tournament, Mills had been superb. After their first four games, he was England’s joint leading wicket-taker with seven scalps at an average below 16; he is a difficult bowler to replace.
Capable of hitting the 90mph-mark with regularity and with a reliable, deceptive slower ball in his armoury, he, alongside Chris Jordan, was Eoin Morgan’s banker at the death.
The most obvious player to bring in is Mark Wood. Had he been fit for the tournament opener against West Indies, there’s a reasonable chance that he would have played, perhaps in place of Mills. Earlier this year, Wood was superb against India, taking 1-20, 3-31 and 1-25 from his first three four-over spells of the series. Though quick, he’s not really a like-for-like replacement for Mills in that his record at the death is mediocre at best.
In T20 games where ball-by-ball data is available, his economy rate at the death is 10.26 runs per over. For comparison, Mills’ death overs economy rate is 7.65. With Chris Woakes predominantly a new-ball specialist and Jordan already bowling at the death, Wood isn’t actually that straightforward a replacement.
David Willey is another option but he, like Woakes, is best utilised with the new ball. Neither are particularly comfortable at the death (Woakes has an economy of 10.39 in this phase, Willey, 9.91).
Tom Curran has previously built a reputation as a death bowler but has endured a really difficult year – it would be some gamble to throw him into the side at the business end of a World Cup.
Reece Topley, Mills’ injury replacement into the squad, is probably the most like-for-like option available in the group. The Surrey quick is different in style to Mills – he doesn’t quite possess the same pace – but does provide the same point-of-difference angle.
There is another option: to bench one of the batters – most likely the out of form Malan – and bring in two bowlers to cover more bases. This way, they can divide the death over workload between a pair of bowlers – say, Willey and Wood – rather than burdening one player unsuited to the role to bowl at least two overs at the end of an innings. Given Malan’s form – he has a strike-rate of 114.40 across 37 T20s in 2021 – this might be the safest bet, also allowing Morgan to be less reliant on the spin of Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone should conditions be less favourable to the spinners.