England's New Era: Should Fans Be Optimistic Despite Rapid WT20 Exit?

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2014

CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH - MARCH 29:  England captain Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan leave the field after losing the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 Group 1 match between England and South Africa at Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

"It's going to be a new era of English cricket isn't it?" remarked Stuart Broad in the aftermath of England's defeat to South Africa on Saturday, according to ESPN Cricinfo.

"It's an exciting time to be part of English cricket. Change is exciting from time to time," the Twenty20 skipper went on to add.

There was a stark contrast between this media address and the one Broad had endured prior to departing England for the Caribbean and then Bangladesh in late February. On that occasion, the stand-in leader sustained a barrage of questions regarding the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, and though Broad played an admirably straight bat in difficult circumstances, there was a feeling that English cricket was sinking under the weight of intense public scrutiny.

After Saturday's loss, however, there was a starkly different feel to Broad's presence in front of the microphones. Despite his side having its elimination from the ICC World Twenty20 sealed by South Africa, England's captain was sincerely upbeat about the new trajectory of the national side.

It would be amiss to suggest that Broad's positivity was misplaced, too.

While victories haven't piled up, there's been an apparent freshness to England's outfit in Bangladesh. Certainly, it's indicative of how far England have fallen that an early-tournament exit can be viewed somewhat favourably. But after completing one of the most embarrassing tours in the game's history to Australia this winter, there's a sense that England have embarked on a new cricketing chapter.

CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH - MARCH 26:  England captain Stuart Broad speaks with coach Ashley Giles during a nets session at Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium on March 26, 2014 in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Examining England's performances thus far in the tournament, it's hard to shake the perception that this is an outfit finally ready to emerge from that catastrophic trip Down Under. England won one of two completed encounters against higher-ranked opposition and were unfortunate casualties of the maligned Duckworth-Lewis system against New Zealand.

Across those matches, Broad's men clattered 555 runs—the highest number in the tournament for any team in a trio of games. Alex Hales' record-breaking 116 against Sri Lanka was clearly the highlight, but a collection of other performances shouldn't be discounted.  

Both Michael Lumb and Moeen Ali made impressive starts against New Zealand in England's tournament opener. Eoin Morgan was superb alongside Hales during the chase against the imposing Sri Lankans, while both Jos Buttler and Ravi Bopara showcased their worth against South Africa on Saturday.

Despite those efforts failing to propel England into the competition's semi-finals, the team's batsmen not only trumped expectations, but also indicated that England's limited-overs batting stocks possess a sustainable strength moving forward. Indeed, of those mentioned, only Lumb is on the wrong side of 30. The side's prosperous batting core of Hales, Morgan and Buttler are just 25, 27 and 23, respectively.

There was also an admirable defiance to England's displays with the bat.

Against Sri Lanka, Broad's men found themselves in a hole when Lumb and Ali departed in the first over, but mustered the composure to claw themselves out of despair and to a famous triumph. A similar wobble occurred in the eighth over against the South Africans but did little to halt England's gallant pursuit of 197. 

Just a couple of months prior in Australia, such occurrences inevitably resulted in alarming annihilations. While widely glossed over, England's defiance in this tournament points toward a corner having been turned.

CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH - MARCH 27:  Alex Hales of England celebrates hitting the winning runs during the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 Group 1 match between England and Sri Lanka at Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium on March 27, 2014 in Chittagong, Bangl
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

That's not to say that England don't own a number concerns. They most definitely do.

Like their Australian counterparts, Broad and Co. have learned that pace on the ball is a dangerous commodity in the T20 game. Without a match-winning spinner, England's reliance on the seam of Jade Dernbach, Chris Jordan, Tim Bresnan and the captain himself, could represent a possible handbrake on the side's potential in cricket's shortest format.

Yet, it's also hard to envisage a nation with such an amplitude of resources and back-room analysis not keeping in touch with the format's evolution and rapidly reacting.

In that regard, Dernbach and Bresnan face uncertain futures in England's new era, given the pair's inability to contain to any meaningful extent. Broad and Jordan, too, need to develop an enhanced repertoire for their long-term survival.

The team's woeful performances in the field also need to be quickly addressed, as rarely have the game's observers witnessed such a demoralising fielding effort as the one put forward by England against Sri Lanka.

However, those drawbacks to England's showing in Bangladesh are of lesser significance than the team's apparent reinvigoration.

A beleaguered outfit, a team that struggled to muster any resemblance of spirit in Australia, overcame one of the world's leading T20 outfits, came within three runs of another and were cruelly hurt by the problems posed by rain breaks to the sport's shortest format in their only other match.

For a team that arrived on the subcontinent standing out for their mediocrity as much as their fluro-orange uniforms, that's a genuine cause for optimism.