As England gear up for their attempt to become the first men’s side to hold both white-ball world titles at once, most of the debate has focussed on their top-order options, and how to fit four or five supremely talented options into three or four spots.
But the amount of column inches dedicated to the likes of Dawid Malan, Joe Root, and Tom Banton, as they put pressure on incumbents Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, has arguably obscured the more pressing issues facing Eoin Morgan’s side. For while that’s a problem of plenty, with whatever answer England do settle on seeming attractive, it’s their bowling at the start of the innings and batting at the end that’s lost them games recently.
Heading into the final match of their T20I series against Pakistan, England had taken just one wicket in the first six overs across four games in 2020, and though Jofra Archer and Mark Wood righted those wrongs to an extent against Australia, with three powerplay wickets between them, Wood’s extreme pace won’t always be the answer, while Archer’s expertise all through the innings means that England would rather not expend too much of him up top.
In the death overs with the bat, there are no shortage of candidates, but none have yet made the role their own. The contenders can be split into two camps. The first are the players established at the top-order or in the middle who could adapt if needed – the likes of Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler – and the second are those who have excelled in the T20 Blast, but have so far struggled with the step-up to international cricket, of which Lewis Gregory is the prime example.
While it was only one game, Sam Curran’s performance in the IPL 2020 opener for Chennai Super Kings against defending champions Mumbai Indians offered evidence he could yet be the answer to both conundrums. His skiddy left-arm swing up top, with some useful variations mixed in, saw him account for Quinton de Kock, who was looking destructive before mistiming an off-cutter to midwicket. He ended the powerplay with figures of 1-10 from two overs.
With the bat, he came in with the game on a knife-edge, and in the space of six balls, made CSK heavy favourites. Twenty-nine needed off 17 became 10 needed off 10 as Curran smashed 18 from six balls, including a second-ball six, and another maximum off Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the best death bowler in the world. Playing against the reigning IPL champions, facing off with players right up there with the best in the world at the roles he had to negate, Curran stood tall.
Much of this has been said about Curran before, but the promising start to his T20I career has arguably been obscured by his mediocre ODI efforts. In the shortest format, he is yet to go wicketless, and one of his three innings saw him crash 24 off 11 balls against New Zealand. In ODIs, he is yet to pass 15 and has conceded more than seven runs per over in three of his five caps.
Still, this was only one game, and it isn’t long until the T20 World Cup. If Curran is to stake a claim, doing so across a whole IPL campaign, rather than just the odd game here or there, is what he needs to do. While there is much reason to want and suspect he might be the answer, we don’t yet know it. More performances like this will help, though.