- With three of the five back-to-back T20 internationals played, Eoin Morgan’s England are leading 2-1 having won the first and third games
- The side who wins the toss has won every game so far, and on each occasion has decided to field first with the ‘dew factor’ in India a big talking point
- England’s power play successes in games one and three have been the biggest surprise to date, taking six top order wickets in this period across games one and three
AHMEDABAD, INDIA – With both T20 teams at full strength, the series so far has smacked of quality, but conditions have overly lent themselves to the team batting last.
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With the T20 World Cup taking place in India in just seven months time and the final of that tournament being hosted in the same stadium India and England are currently doing battle across a five match series, this seems like the perfect opportunity for Eoin Morgan‘s men to find a winning formula.
They have held themselves to an extremely high standard so far, with England currently 2-1 up in the series with two games to go (Thursday and Saturday). However, both sides will be irritated by just how important the toss of a coin has been so far in deciding these games under lights.
In India, a lot of cricket pundits and commentators will talk about the ‘dew factor’ when playing at night. As the temperature falls and the outfield remains lush, the ball can get a bit like a bar of soap as the evening dew sets in, predominately towards the second half of the matches. This results in two major differences across the two innings: the ball comes onto the bat a lot better in the second innings, and slower balls are both harder to execute and far less effective, as they don’t sit in the surface but rather skid on nicely when the ‘dew factor’ is at play.
This has led to three comfortable chases for the team batting second, who also have an advantage by virtue of knowing exactly how many runs they have to get in their allotted 20 overs, rather than setting a target in tougher conditions. The conundrum for both sides is how to win when batting first, as the coin cannot fall for both teams if they meet in the World Cup final on November 14.
But both sides have been able to strike upon some unexpected positives so far in this series too, plus points which could elevate them from merely World Cup prospects to World Cup winners.
England produce with pace in the power play
Before the series began last Friday, much of the talk focused on England’s bowling attack, and how it had been a weakness of their recent T20 form – in good batting conditions, Morgan’s side have always been able to rely on the power hitting of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Morgan himself, the list could go on, to chase down any score. Where England haven’t been so fruitful in the shortest format is when their bowlers have had to defend a low total on a two-paced batting track.
However, when bowling first in games one and three, England have subverted this expectation in commanding fashion. Coming into this series, England’s bowling unit had the highest bowling average in the power play over the last two years, essentially meaning they were going for runs and not taking enough wickets. However, the fierce pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood alongside the guile and craft of Adil Rashid‘s wrist spin has been the key to England’s two victories so far, as India haven’t come close to laying a sufficient platform for their power hitters Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya down the order.
Firstly, to Rashid’s influence. England’s spinners were utterly outplayed in the red ball arena, but in limited overs cricket, Morgan has one of, if not the most dependable wrist-spinner in world cricket. Rashid has now played in 50 T20Is since Morgan became captain in 2015, as well as 101 ODIs. That wealth of experience is now being reflected in his high level of consistency, and Morgan is utilising him in ways never seen before.
England have always held Rashid back from the power play overs, as the lack of protection in the outfield made him a risky option if the leg-spinner strayed in his line and length. Rashid may have been culpable to the semi-regular long hop or full toss early in Morgan’s tenure, but in 2021 Rashid has the ball on a string.
It’s allowed Morgan to use Rashid in an unexpected manner; the Yorkshireman has opened the bowling for England in both of their victories so far, taking the prized scalp of Indian skipper Virat Kohli in game one for a duck (since then, Kohli has scored 150 runs without losing his wicket). Rashid, having never opened the bowling for England in T20Is before this series, now has the trust of his captain to set the tone for the rest of the attack to follow.
Archer and Wood will take most of the plaudits for England’s newfound success in the first six overs, however. Both bowlers have been firing down deliveries consistently upwards of 90mph, and India’s top order haven’t had an answer so far. India have used three different opening pairs in all three games up to this point, and they have lost their first wicket with 2, 0 and 7 on the board.
The only consistent selection at the top of the order for India has always been that first man to go, KL Rahul, which suggests what they’re trying with their opening pairings simply haven’t worked. Rahul has been dismissed bowled off Archer in game one and bowled off Wood in game three, allowing England’s pacemen to really build up a head of steam and turn their four over sets into match-winning performances: Archer taking 3-23 in game one, and Wood 3-31 in Tuesday’s success. Often, when bowlers have searing pace, accuracy comes at a premium. But England’s duo have combined raw speed with precision, a golden combination in T20 cricket at any level.
Improvements needed to seal victory
There are still a number of tweaks needed for Morgan’s side to capitalise on their 2-1 lead heading into the last two matches, however. As previously mentioned, since Rashid dismissed Kohli without scoring in the opener, India’s skipper has scored 150 unbeaten runs at a strike rate of 158. Kohli’s performances have eclipsed every batsman on show and while that isn’t exactly surprising, England need to work out how to attack India’s talisman.
The answer could be Reece Topley, as Kohli’s numbers when facing left-arm pace in T20 competitions are weak for a batsman of his calibre. Replacing Sam Curran with the quicker Topley, while weakening England’s batting considerably, could produce yet more firepower for Morgan. As wickets often mean wins in T20s – you win 80% of your games if you take three wickets in the power play – picking Topley would be an ultra-aggressive move from England.
Utilising Ben Stokes is another conundrum for Morgan, although I don’t expect England’s star man to be shifted from his no.5 batting position any time soon. Stokes struggled when given the opportunity to get England up to a defendable score when batting first in game two, constantly losing his shape as he tried to belt the slower balls of Shardul Thakur out of the park. In the end, he succumbed to Thakur for a disappointing 24 off 21 deliveries at a time when England were looking to accelerate.
Stokes hasn’t bowled his full allocation of 4 overs in any of the games so far either, meaning he has become somewhat of a bit-part player so far in a series chock full of world-class players. Stokes unquestionably has the talent, but doesn’t really have a defined role with either bat or ball in this England side yet. Personally, I’d prefer Stokes at no.3 in place of Dawid Malan, who has looked stodgy at the crease with his scores of 24* (20), 24 (23) and 18 (17), allowing Stokes the time to play himself in before swinging at the hip. This would open a pathway for either the destructive Liam Livingstone, fresh off the back of a successful Big Bash tournament in Australia where he scored more runs and at a higher strike rate than current England opener Jason Roy in the same Perth Scorchers team (and he can also bowl some useful leg-spin too) or Moeen Ali, who alongside spin twin Rashid can really put some pressure on India’s batsmen if either of these final two pitches become more conducive to turn. Moeen on his day can also destroy a bowling attack, as he did to the West Indies in Bristol back in 2017.
However, I expect consistency in selection from Morgan (barring any more injuries to Wood, who had to sit out England’s sole defeat with a sore heel) as England look to show faith and provide confidence to this already high-calibre, successful T20 team before the World Cup in October. However, Morgan could really need England’s strength in depth in a World Cup scenario, so with his men 2-1 up in the series, now could be the perfect moment to throw up some more high quality surprises for Kohli and India. If they emerge victorious from this five-match series against one of the strongest T20 outfits in the world in their own back yard, it would lay down the ultimate statement for an England team trying to become the first side in history to hold both the one-day and T20 World Cups at the same time. What a legacy for Morgan and co. to aspire towards.
England’s T20 series in India concludes on Saturday 20 March, with the fourth T20 starting on Thursday 18 March at 1:30pm GMT.
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