Are England double world champions-in-waiting?
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Cape Town - For England to have come as far as they have in white-ball cricket is staggering. For so long the nation that frowned upon anything not played over at least four days and in white flannels, they are now the undisputed bench-march for high-tempo techno-colour cricket.
Eoin Morgan’s team have embraced a brand that is intoxicating in its excitement, which in the process delivered the 2019 50-overs World Cup in the most dramatic fashion. But they are not finished yet. They are hell-bent on becoming the first team to do “the double” with the ICC T20 World Cup firmly in their sights. “I think it'll be unbelievably special if we manage to do it,” Morgan said this week.
“I think that the group of players that we’ve had together for the last five or six years, alongside some new, really talented and young guys coming through, who have really made a name for themselves, makes the composition of the squad extremely strong.
“Obviously playing away from home creates challenges, and for the first time since 2016 we're going into a world tournament where we haven’t been favourites. So again, there are some challenges, but challenges that we've overcome in bilateral series on previous occasions, and challenges that we're really looking forward to.
“We’re always trying to push the limits, we’re always trying to get better as a side, and since 2019 our cricket has been as consistent as ever, I think, in the T20 format which is extremely difficult to do when there’s been chopping and changing the whole time. And I think with the opportunity of not only this World Cup but next year’s as well, there’s a real chance of being contenders.”
They came perilously close five years ago in India to lifting the T20 world crown when Carlos Brathwaite made sure everyone remembered his name by breaking English hearts with an astonishing last over assault on Ben Stokes that yielded four successive sixes for West Indies to claim their second World T20 crown.
Morgan, though, has tasted T20 World Cup success already – back in 2010 under the leadership of Paul Collingwood in the Caribbean. The contrasts between that group and the 2021 team cannot be more contrasting though.
England arrived in the West Indies on a wing and prayer more than anything else, with virtually just one truly world-class player in Kevin Pietersen. The fact that “KP” finished as the tournament’s MVP probably played its part. But even counting in the loss of superstars Stokes and Jofra Archer – the 2019 Lord’s heroes – there still remains an abundance of individual match-winners like Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Adil Rashid and Tymal Mills to call upon.
An indication of England’s overflowing resources is the ever-constant debate around whether the World’s No 1 T20 batsman Malan should even be in the starting XI, while Test captain Joe Root – who top-scored with 54 off 36 balls and took 2/1 opening the bowling in the 2016 final in Mumbai – has not played a T20I since May 2019.
“We’re always trying to push the limits, we’re always trying to get better as a side, and since 2019 our cricket has been as consistent as ever, I think, in the T20 format which is extremely difficult to do when there’s been chopping and changing the whole time. And I think with the opportunity of not only this World Cup but next year’s as well, there’s a real chance of being contenders,” Morgan said.
England open their campaign in a replay of the 2016 final against the Windies in Dubai on Sunday before facing arch-rivals Australia and South Africa sandwiched between a couple of matches against the qualifiers.
For the No1 ranked T20 side in the world, who have lost just two T20I series – both against India – out of their last 13 series, it should be a comfortable passage into the semi-finals.
From thereon it’s just about how they handle the pressure. And unlike their football counterparts they are a team that’s comfortable with the “favourites” tag heading into major tournaments.
The English tend to treat their winners with a reverence accorded to gods. Double world champions could be immortal.