Ben Gardner picks out five lessons England should heed from the recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL 2020) season.
England’s players had a mixed time of it at IPL 2020. Rajasthan Royals, the team with the strongest English contingent, finished dead last on the points table. But Jofra Archer, playing for RR, was named the tournament’s MVP, and, as we’ll see, not just for his bowling.
No English players featured in the competition’s play-off stages either, with Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali not picked for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore’s key games. Still, there was plenty for the England management to take note of.
Jofra Archer has earned a promotion
Jofra Archer’s international debut was arguably England’s most eagerly anticipated since Kevin Pietersen’s, all the way back in 2004, and, especially in white-ball cricket, the speedster has fully lived up to the hype. However, back when he was just a globetrotting T20 superstar, the word was that he wasn’t only a bowler. Highlights reels showed clips of extraordinary fielding brilliance, and the stats spoke of a proper all-rounder. Averages below 10 in Test and ODI cricket have put any hopes England fans had of having another Ben Stokes in their ranks on the backburner.
In IPL 2020 however, he has fully justified the all-rounder tag. Only Kieron Pollard maintained a higher strike-rate in the competition, with Archer at one pointing smashing four consecutive sixes in two legal deliveries. That’s four times as many as he’s hit in over 300 balls faced in England colours.
There’s little explaining the discrepancy between Archer batting for England and otherwise, but he showed enough spark to justify a promotion to No.8 in England’s T20I batting order, with his best innings showcasing a disregard for his own wicket that is paramount in the lower order.
Sam Curran is a must-pick
Given the hefty price-tag he won at last year’s IPL auction, it comes as some surprise to realise that Sam Curran has played just the five T20Is for England, with only modest success. In his 14 games for a listing Chennai Super Kings side, Curran showed why he must become a regular pick from now on. Rather than just ‘making things happen’, he consistently contributed, prising out new-ball wickets and batting with equal aplomb at the top and at the death; he was one of only two players to score more than 150 runs and take more than 10 wickets.
Something is up with Moeen Ali
That might well be bad news for Moeen Ali, since Curran is most likely to slot in at No.7, the position Moeen has batted most often for England in T20Is. He hardly featured in IPL 2020, playing just three games, managing a combined 12 runs off 16 balls, and taking one wicket. Perhaps it’s harsh to judge on such a small sample size, but what’s more intriguing is why the off-spinning all-rounder wasn’t being selected in the first place.
In 2019, he had a breakout season, scoring at a strike-rate of 165 while maintaining an economy of under seven runs per over. With the bubble sacrosanct, no one could get close enough to the nets to see how Moeen was hitting them, but given, when on form, he’s a player any side in the world would be lucky to have, it’s hard not to conclude that a campaign away from the England set-up hasn’t had the restorative impact all hoped it would.
The Jos Buttler debate isn’t going away anytime soon
It’s a conversation that isn’t just dominating the build-up to England’s T20 World Cup campaign, but one that defines how you feel about T20 cricket as a whole. Jos Buttler is England’s best T20 batsman. Where he can have most impact is as an opener, and that’s the aggressive option. Get your superstar to grab the game by the scruff and win it before the opposition have had a sniff. Unsurprisingly, that’s the option Eoin Morgan’s England have favoured.
The other side of the argument is that England are stocked with high-quality openers, but relatively bereft of batsmen who can adapt to the shifting requirements of the middle-order maestro/finisher. It’s a role Buttler is adept at, and there’s a school of thought that says he should bat lower down, even if it’s not getting the most out of him, because there’s more of a trade-off to the next best player in that position.
This season, Rajasthan Royals faced the same dilemma, with Buttler opening to start with before shifting down after he and the team struggled. While he couldn’t drag RR to the playoffs, his own form improved, with another hidden benefit revealing itself; if Buttler’s not opening, teams can’t get the psychological fillip of getting Buttler early. Perhaps knowing he’s still to come might mess with a fielding captain’s plans too.
He’s unlikely to shift away from opening for England yet, especially with fellow opener Jonny Bairstow, the player vying with Buttler for the title of ‘England’s best white-ball batsman’, also struggling for form somewhat, but IPL 2020 has only added more intrigue to a debate that is sure to continue to bubble away for a while yet.
Question Ben Stokes at your peril
Perhaps this is more a lesson for England fans than for England. To look at Ben Stokes’ career T20 stats, you’d think this was an average-to-good, but not world-beating journeyman all-rounder, and there were those wondering, semi-sacrilegiously, if his position in England’s T20I side might not be beyond question. Then he smashed 107 off 60 balls and rendered the discussion moot.
As was argued by CricViz’s Ben Jones, however, there should never have been any doubt. Stokes has shown in Test and ODI cricket that he can turn fitful brilliance into sustained greatness, and that often it takes the biggest of occasions – a marquee Ashes series or a World Cup final – to bring out the best in him. If England are picking a team, Stokes should always be in it.