@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read
England’s T20 World Cup campaign got off to the perfect start with a thrashing of defending champions West Indies.
It was a victory that exorcised the demons of that night in Kolkata five years ago, and confirming them as one of the favourites to take home the title this time.
This was a victory founded by their bowlers, with Eoin Morgan’s side continuing a trend of bowling dominance over the West Indies: in the two T20Is between the sides before this tournament, England had skittled their opponents for 45 and 71.
Moeen Ali is firing on all fronts
Not long ago, Moeen Ali had drifted to the fringes of England’s plans in T20Is. He didn’t play a single game in their series against India earlier this year, with Sam Curran having seemingly nailed down the No.7 slot, and Ben Stokes’ presence meaning England were well stocked for all-rounders. Since then, however, various injuries and absences as well as Moeen’s own excellent form have thrust him right back into the centre of the side.
He was a key figure in Chennai Super Kings’ success at IPL 2021, though even there he was only peripheral with the ball, a fill-in option to allow flexibility elsewhere. Here, he was handed the new ball, an unlikely but ultimately very capable replacement for Jofra Archer, and bravely kept on for the second over despite conceding a six from the final ball of the first over. He justified the faith with a wicket maiden, enticing Lendl Simmons to hole out to deep midwicket, and snared Shimron Hetmyer in his third over. Only once in his last 12 T20Is before today had Moeen bowled his full quota. He did so here, and emerged with career-best figures.
West Indies’ top-order imbalance leaves them open to off-spin
Moeen was excellent with the ball, but he was aided by the prevalence of left-handers in the West Indies top order, with southpaws comprising four of the carded top five, and Simmons, the sole right-hander in the first half of the batting order, hardly destructive against slow bowling. Kieron Pollard’s side attempted a course correction, with Dwayne Bravo promoted ahead of Nicholas Pooran, but the all-rounder would ordinarily be at No.8 in this line-up.
West Indies have two other right-hand options in their squad, with Andre Fletcher and Roston Chase both theoretically capable of coming in for Chris Gayle at No.3. However, neither is hugely inspiring. Fletcher has a mediocre record from a decent sample size in international cricket, and while Chase is untested, and comes into this competition on the back of a dominant CPL campaign, he stunk the place out so badly in a warm-up that West Indies might be rethinking his inclusion.
Eoin Morgan, the captain, is a very valuable thing
There has been plenty of debate over Eoin Morgan’s place in England’s side as he endures one of the leanest trots of his careers, with the counterpoint that he is so important as a leader that even if he bats at seven he’s worth his place in the side. The problem is, captaincy can be a nebulous thing to evaluate, and to some it’s an overrated skill. Here, however, Morgan showed his true value, orchestrating England’s bowling effort to perfection.
First there was the decision to continue with Moeen, a smuggled-through first over turned into a tone-setting spell. Then there was the holding back of Adil Rashid, allowing Tymal Mills and Chris Jordan to show they aren’t just death specialists. Rashid struck first ball to remove the dangerous Andre Russell and ended with record-breaking figures.
It won’t always go as according to plan, but despite contributing only a run-a-ball seven, Morgan can count himself a chief architect of England’s win.
Tymal Mills is an international-class bowler
You can do everything you like in the franchise stuff. You can tear up the Blast, the PSL, even the IPL. But until you’ve done it for your country, that question mark will linger. Mills has done it for England, of course, playing four T20Is in 2016 and 2017. But those were so long ago that this felt like a second debut, with Mills having carved out a career as a death bowler like no other in the interim.
There were no death overs here, and yet Mills still showed his unique skill set can outfox one of the world’s best batting line-ups on the world’s biggest stage. No one who bowls as quickly also bowls so many slower balls, and both were on full show. It was that pace that accounted for both Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran, but a dipping slower ball to the former showcased his other talents. Mills has plenty in his locker.
Batting deep only gets you so far, but England can have it both ways
England and West Indies both subscribe to a similar philosophy: Score as many runs as you like. We’ll back ourselves to score more. West Indies had Andre Russell, one of the format’s defining players, come in at No.8, while for England, world No.1 batter Dawid Malan was unused at No.7. West Indies’ car crash of an innings, however, showed the limitations of stacking your batting. It still needs someone, or ideally a few players, to play a substantial hand. There is no guarantee, in such a volatile format, that you won’t end up 60 all out on any given day, and once a collapse is in motion, it can be hard to arrest. With Pollard and Russell in the middle and 10 overs left to bat, West Indies should have still been in the hunt, but it didn’t feel like it.
There’s also the trade-off with the weakening of the bowling, but for England, with Moeen in this form and Livingstone another option, this drawback can at least be mitigated.
A win, but also much more
It would be a stretch to say England have one foot in the semis, but not much of one. They have overcome the toughest challenge they will face in the Super 12s, on paper at least, and have done so with such comprehension that any NRR equation should fall in their favour. Given they are in the Group of Death, where any team could beat any other, three wins may well be enough to secure a top two spot. For West Indies however, whose own NRR has taken a battering, they might need to be perfect from here on out, or risk their title defence being ended at the earliest possible opportunity.