World Cup T20: England could hardly have a more challenging opening tournament match against the West Indies
It has been five and a half years since England’s most recent match in a Twenty20 World Cup ended with a hail of six from Carlos Brathwaite and the sight of Ben Stokes disconsolate amid the chaos at Eden Gardens.
Neither of them will be in Dubai on Saturday: Brathwaite was eliminated two years ago, while Stokes continues to recover. But there could hardly be a more challenging first tournament match for both sides.
The reigning champions of the West Indies against a team from England led by a captain, Eoin Morgan, who hopes to become the second man after India’s MS Dhoni to lift the 50 and T20 titles, and the first to hold them simultaneously.
England’s most recent match in a T20 World Cup ended with a hail from Carlos Brathwaite (r) sixes
Ben Stokes (right) was left heartbroken after Braithwaite’s coup won the final for the West Indies.
Possible teams: England v West Indies
England: 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wkt), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Eoin Morgan (capt), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Tymal Mills.
West Indies: 1 Andre Fletcher, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Shimron Hetmyer, 5 Nicolas Pooran (wkt), 6 Kieron Pollard (captain), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Hayden Walsh, 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Oshane Thomas.
Referees: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Marais Erasmus (South Africa).
Match referee: David Boon (Australia).
The form and the classifications point in one direction. England, the world’s number one team, have won nine and drawn one of their last 11 bilateral T20 series, including a 3-0 win in the Caribbean in early 2019. The West Indies, eight places behind them, are nothing if not hot and cold.
But slow pitches from the United Arab Emirates will put the ingenuity of England’s hitmakers to the test in the coming weeks, and the West Indies, powered by the likes of Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and, if he’s in shape, Andre Russell, they know how to clear the ropes. in any condition.
Then there are the events of Kolkata 2016, long enough to be dismissed as irrelevant, but spectacular enough to stick in the memory. On Friday, the two captains had predictably different shots.
When asked if England, whose team includes seven of the 11 from that night, still had scars, Morgan had a one-word answer: ‘No.’
They pressured him to elaborate: ‘Some of the biggest disappointments in anyone’s career are more learnings than scars. If they were scars, we would have lost a lot of players who would not have progressed as they have.
Pollard had less need to tiptoe on the subject. “It will definitely be in the back of their minds,” he said. ‘What Carlos did was incredible. We saw him last night and it gave us goose bumps.
‘Show that attitude of never saying die. As a team, we hope to try to replicate the victory in the tournament, but those moments stay with us. ”
But England captain Eoin Morgan (pictured) insisted there are no scars from that defeat.
Victory in the sweltering heat of the Gulf, where the afternoon dew can make bowling a hazard, will be a big step towards qualifying for the semi-finals, especially since the remaining two spots in Group 1 have now been filled. by two test teams. in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
But Morgan’s icy aura has survived a horrific bat sequence, and he explained his team’s requirements with reassuring clarity.
“You don’t have to be the best team in the tournament from the beginning,” he said. “But you have to be the smartest team, the most experienced, the most adaptable, to be able to do well in the early stages of the tournament.”
He also downplayed the suggestion that this competition represents a ‘last hurray’ for the current team, including himself.
However, the captain of the West Indies, Kieron Pollard, insisted that he would be in the back of England’s mind.
When you look at the mainstays of the group that has been around the longest, they really are reaching the peak of their powers: Buttler, Stokes, Archer, Roy, Bairstow, guys like that who are coming, they will definitely play. the next T20 and 50-Over World Cups. ‘
A more pressing matter is the identity of the stronger side of England. Dawid Malan is still the world’s number one T20 hitter, but he hit a total of just 29 of 33 balls during warm-up games against India and New Zealand, preferring rhythm with the ball.
However, with Morgan also fighting for the runs, England may consider the bolder option of playing Moeen Ali at No. 3, which would make room for six bowlers, in addition to Liam Livingstone’s two-way variety.
Another option is to play Malan and Ali, who made a mighty undefeated 43 with 20 balls against India, and were recently honing their skills on Emirati surfaces in the IPL. And that would mean there is no place for Livingstone, who came off the boil in the same tournament with the Rajasthan Royals.
Powerful hitter Chris Gayle, 42, is a dangerous opponent and can hit six in all conditions.
Whichever line-up England chooses, there will be no guarantees in a group that also includes Australia and South Africa, which today launch the Super 12 stage 85 miles offshore in Abu Dhabi.
And even if Morgan’s team does make it through, they will likely have to beat tournament favorites India, the only team to beat them in a two-way series in more than four years.
The captain, however, has never been one to worry about the opposition. “The name of the country on the jersey is really irrelevant when it comes to a World Cup,” he said. “You need to prove yourself through performance.”
Exorcising the demons from Eden Gardens would be a good place to start.