Oh England. There is nothing wrong with losing in International Twenty20 cricket, to a full member nation at any rate, as it is the format of the game where one individual performance can take the game away from you. However, England’s two defeats to India and the West Indies were far from honourable defeats; the first a true thrashing, and the second made to look closer than it was by a gem of an innings from Eoin Morgan. Both matches seemed to hark back to the days of England being truly abject at the limited overs formats of the game, and brought up the spectre of Kevin Pietersen, who is at the tournament merely to provide analysis when many wish he was at the crease for England.
However, England’s defeats have more to them than just the lack of the KP factor. There are three main areas that the England team needs to address before their games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, which are definitely winnable games, and may indeed have been won by the time you read this. These areas are responsible for the majority of England’s struggles, and are holding them back from coming anywhere near retaining their world champions’ title.
First is the line-up. The selection of the team is fundamentally incorrect. Personally, I believe the squad itself is lacking some of the best proponents of Twenty20 magic in England (Michael Carberry, Peter Trego, Jimmy Adams), who have been overlooked for not having just emerged from the womb, it seems. However, they have the 15 they have, and they’re stuck with it. That being as it is, England’s persistence with the obviously mentally shot Craig Kieswetter is baffling. The man is a talented cricketer, but with him in such poor form, and other keepers in the eleven who could take the gloves, it’s time for Michael Lumb to come into the team, to provide a left-right hand partnership up top. Samit Patel, a good nudger and nurdler, is wasted at seven, and must be moved up the order to keep the scoreboard ticking until it’s time for the hitters, as Bairstow’s struggles against the West Indies probably cost England the game.
Secondly, Graeme Swann must step up. There have been several rumours about Swann, alleging he’s very happy with just bowling his four overs economically, and this is why he hasn’t ever bowled in the powerplay. This is something that has to change. The pitches in this tournament starting to really favour spin, combined with the importance of early wickets, means Swann has to man up and attack the opposition’s best batsmen early. When he came on against the West Indies, the batsmen already had their eye in and dealt with him contemptuously. Swann doing well gives the whole team confidence, and he’ll do best if he steps up and bowls earlier, searching for early wickets.
Lastly, there must be a return to ‘no fear’ cricket. This is how England won the last Twenty20 World Cup, by not letting the stereotypical British neuroses affect their game. Again, this mentality seems to have been lost, replaced with a fear of spin bowling and losing too many wickets; which conversely leads to losing wickets anyway. It is noticeable how well England played when they were so far behind the 8-ball against the West Indies that they just started having fun, and in doing so got far closer than they had any right to. It is this mentality that England must return to if they want to stand any chance of retaining their crown. Even if they don’t emerge victorious, I would much prefer it if England went out with a bang, not a whimper as an offspinner sneaks through another defensive shot.