England's Batsmen Suddenly Discover Their Power-Play
Something unusual is happening at this World Twenty20 Championships. England are winning—convincingly.
For far too long England have talked a good game when it comes to limited overs cricket and have gone through many strategies, and many more players in order to start walking the walk. Let's face it, this is the best chance England have had to win an international tournament since the 1992 World Cup.
The major revelation has been the power-play batting. At the time of writing England have the two highest scores in the first six overs, 60 and 65 against West Indies and South Africa respectively.
So what's the difference?
It's not like England haven't picked top-order hitters before, Joe Denly and Luke Wright spring immediately to mind. Perhaps the main thing is that in Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter they have two batsmen who have consistently performed in the reduced format and have enough playing experience to not panic when they don't get off to a flyer in the first two overs.
Their experience in the county version of the game—and for Lumb in the IPL—means that they understand the importance of boundaries. When England haven't been looking at sloggers they've gone with the likes of Ian Bell and Jonothan Trott at the start of an innings, and there's nothing quite as depressing as watching Bell nurdle the ball around with no sense of the urgency that T20 demands.
Andy Flower and the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit, too. There's been much talk about the players standing in the middle and focusing solely on hitting sixes. While a lot of coaching innovations get more credit than they possibly deserve, (think of how the bowling machine Merlin was credited with being able to mimick Shane Warne in 2005) this one has clearly had a massive effect.
On home soil at the last championships, England hit 13 sixes. In four games so far they've hit 20, including 11 in their first game against the Windies. All of this allows for greater flexibility in the batting with Kevin Pietersen looking in imperious form with less pressure on his shoulders, and meaning the aforementioned Wright can come into the big-hitting finisher role to which he is ultimately more suited internationally.
Speaking of finishers, perhaps the most crucial addition since the last tournament has been that of Eoin Morgan, he has all the ability to play orthodox shots but his hurling background means that he's also capable of the sublimely ridiculous, his own version of the scoop over third man is one of the most pleasing things to watch when feeling gloomy.
Importantly for England, he brings in genuine international class at the later stage of the innings where England might previously have taken a punt on the likes of Dimi Mascherenas or Graham Napier.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, England are probably one man short of having a world-class batting lineup—although Ravi Bopara and Steve Davies are ones to watch for the future. But in this tournament with a very stable and varied bowling attack, England seem to have struck a balance between sensibly building innings and going out all guns blazing.
Long may it continue.
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