Thursday, 13 March 2014

England play whack-a-mole

Trying to cover all bases with England’s T20 team is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Hales and Lumb blast their way to 64 in the Powerplay to bring temporary reassurance about the top order batting. Then from 96-0 after ten overs, comes 139-6 after nineteen. The middle order batting, which dragged England out of holes in the first two games, now dug themselves into one.

Still, another mole was whacked with the superlative last over blasting of Chris Jordan. Death hitting? Check. Death bowling? Yuck. It was lucky for England that West Indies gave themselves a little too much to do at the death, or a whitewash may have been on the cards. If Darren Sammy hadn’t reached at what would have been a wide, last ball, West Indies could have won.

The downside of all this unpredictability is that England’s plans are lying in tatters. Ashley Giles has been seen constantly scribbling in a notebook. Perhaps it’s just the word ‘improvise’, over and over again. It might be England’s best chance.

Nobody’s performed to expectation on this tour. Some have been good in unlikely roles. Bresnan and Jordan emerging as lower order hitters of note, Bopara as a frontline bowler to add to his batting.

Others have surprised in actually doing the job expected of them. Jade Dernbach has dispensed with much of his slower ball frippery and landed yorkers more consistently than ever before. His figures do not reflect the improvement he’s made. That’s sometimes the lot of a death bowler.

England’s plans and team selections are flawed, but despite that, they have good ball strikers against poor bowling, and they feasted on West Indies seamers at times, bar Santokie. That won’t win you a World T20 though. England may have played Narine much better today, but they had the advantage of starting their innings against seamers. They won’t get that luxury much in Bangladesh.

Both teams wanted to win their T20 series. But perhaps more important than that was to get their combinations for the World T20 sorted. West Indies have done both, England have done neither. They’re taking fifteen players to Bangladesh, and only six or seven are inked into the team. The rest is still up for grabs.

While the West Indies are little like England as a T20 outfit, they’ve shown some similarities to England’s triumphant team in the Caribbean back in 2011. They’ve unearthed a left arm swing bowler to bowl in the Powerplay and at the death; Krishmar Santokie in contention to play the Ryan Sidebottom role.

They’ve got a genuine spinner, Sunil Narine tying things down and taking wickets even better than Graeme Swann did. They’ve got Badree and Samuels darting things in like Michael Yardy. But they’ve got even more. Smith can smash away first up, whilst Gayle can play himself in then accelerate alarmingly.

Marlon Samuels is classy and powerful, and they’ve got Russell, Bravo, and Sammy to tonk it down the order. Not to mention the fact that Dwayne Bravo’s a better death bowler than anything England have.

West Indies still look unlikely to retain their title. No team has done so to this point, and T20 remains too unpredictable for the same thing to happen twice in a row. They started today’s game poorly, and are a flawed team, but despite losing today, they are just better.

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