Australia may have clung on to the world No 1 ranking but following their victory in the T20 international series, England will be confident of displacing them before long.
The shortest format had been given short shrift by England since 2016 with all their energy in the white-ball game firmly directed towards 50-over cricket and England fans will agree that worked out pretty well.
- Malan displaces Babar as No 1 T20 batsman
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But no sooner was the World Cup won, the focus shifted. Since the 50-over triumph last July, England have played 14 T20Is. In the three and a bit years between the World T20 and the start of the World Cup, they played just 22 – many of those standalone fixtures tagged onto the end of an ODI series.
However, as they prepare for two T20 World Cups in the space of two years – hosted by India in 2021 and Australia in 2022 – the lack of matches over the last few years seems to have had little, if any, negative impact on the side.
A year out from the start of the 2021 tournament, there are still plenty of selection issues, but in almost every case, the dilemma is which incredibly talented player will have to miss out rather than scratching around trying to find someone to fill a gap or address a glaring weakness.
So what is England’s best XI in Twenty20 cricket?
England vs Australia
September 11, 2020, 12:30pm
While there is competition for places throughout the side, nowhere is it fiercer than in the top three. Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy are well established as the openers in ODI cricket but when it comes to T20 there is an added complication: Jos Buttler.
Arguably England’s greatest ever white-ball batsman, Buttler is destructive in the middle-order in the 50-over game but in T20s, the feeling is that he just doesn’t face enough balls coming in at four, five or six. He is an expert finisher, of course, but the nature of T20 means there is no reason he can’t get England off to a flyer and still be there to finish the game off at the end.
“He’s a freak show. On his day, you can do whatever you want; with the white ball, he’s the only one who can get himself out.”
Kevin Pietersen on Jos Buttler
His brilliant 77 not out in the second T20I against Australia last week being a case in point – and Buttler is pretty clear about where he wants to bat.
“[Opening] is my favourite position to bat in T20 cricket,” he said after that match-winning knock. “I’ve had most of my success in T20 at the top, but that’s natural – if you bat in the top three in T20, it’s the best place for everyone.”
England seemed to have resolved the issue by going with Buttler and Roy up front and Bairstow at three. However, that plan didn’t account for the remarkable form of Dawid Malan. The 33-year-old left-hander has been a revelation since coming into the side, scoring seven fifties and a hundred in 16 T20Is with an average of 48.71 – and is now the No 1 ranked T20 batsman in the world.
Surely then, he has got the No 3 position locked down? Well, maybe not. As much as England may not want to move him, the success Roy and Bairstow – forget about Buttler, he is opening for the foreseeable – have had against the new ball in white-ball cricket means neither are likely to be moved any lower down than three, which could see Malan drop to four.
There has also been some discussion around how long it takes Malan to get going. Batting at three allows him the time to get set before accelerating, as a strike-rate of 146.66 shows he does, but would he be afforded that luxury at No 4?
Barring a significant U-turn from Morgan, Alex Hales will not return to the fold but there are no shortage of alternatives for the top three or four. Tom Banton impressed against Pakistan and is sure to be around the set-up for a long while yet but he failed to make an impact after being moved to No 4 in the first two games against Australia and missed out when he did get a shot at the top of the order in game three.
Then, of course, there is Joe Root. The Test captain is perhaps the biggest casualty of England’s decision to make T20 a distant third on their list of priorities in recent years. Root was England’s leading run-scorer – and third highest overall – at the 2016 World T20 in India, but as an integral member of the ODI side, on top of his Test commitments, the Yorkshireman was often rested for the T20s in the years that followed.
An unsuccessful stint with Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash in the winter of 2018-19 is the only real run of T20 games he has had in the last four years, and without the chance to hone his skills in the shortest format, he has not always been at his best when he has played internationally.
It is now over a year since he was last selected by England for a T20I but a couple of fifties for Yorkshire in the Vitality Blast recently were a reminder of is quality. Plus, with the T20 World Cup returning to India, his prowess against spin and his past performances in the sub-continent could bring him back into contention.
Things are slightly more straightforward here. Captain Eoin Morgan is playing as well as ever, Moeen Ali showed his quality against both Pakistan and Australia and, of course, Ben Stokes is still to come back into the team.
The order would likely be Morgan, Stokes and then Ali but whether that is at four, five and six or five, six and seven depends on the make-up of the side. Stokes’ inclusion means they could play a bowler less and squeeze all four of Buttler, Roy, Bairstow and Malan into the side. But equally, Stokes, like Ali, could be seen mainly as a batsman with the option of bowling an over or two if required.
All three have also shown their capabilities as finishers in white-ball cricket, particularly Morgan and Stokes, leaving Buttler free to stay at the top of the order with the three left-handers all more than capable of getting England across the line in a tight finish should he fall early.
Sam Billings and Joe Denly are the back-up options at present but it is likely only one of them will make the 15-man squad come the World Cup. Billings looked good in the ODI series against Ireland and also has experience of playing in India through the IPL, while Denly provides the option of an over or two of useful leg-spin, which could prove valuable on turning subcontinent tracks.
Wickets in the powerplay, or a lack there of, was cited as a problem for England ahead of the series against Pakistan. It remains perhaps their biggest area for improvement but having swapped the exciting but still inexperienced Saqib Mahmood and an over of Ali off-spin against Pakistan for the out-and-out pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood versus Australia, they are already heading in the right direction.
The second T20I against the Aussies showed what it can look like at its best as both men charged in, consistently topped 90mph and had two of the most fearsome batsmen in white-ball cricket hopping around on the crease. David Warner wasn’t hopping for long as Archer got his third ball and while Finch survived the barrage, Alex Carey went in Wood’s first over as Australia found themselves 3-2.
Getting the white Kookaburra ball to swing is a challenge at the best of times, even when it is brand new it seems these days so David Willey, despite playing a starring role in the ODIs with Ireland, looks to have plenty of work to do to come back into the reckoning. Sam Curran offers a similar set of skills to Willey, with more time to develop, and excelled in his debut IPL season.
He will have another chance to stake his claim in this year’s addition but given the direction England look to be going, Curran is more likely to be fighting for a place in the squad than the XI as it stands.
Similarly, Mahmood is sure to be around the squad but will do well to dislodge Archer or Wood from the starting line-up anytime soon. He is the next cab off the rank though should either sustain an untimely injury before the World Cup.
Perhaps the only thing that is 100 per cent, guaranteed at the moment is this: Adil Rashid is England’s first-choice spinner. The leggie has been superb in white-ball cricket for a long time now and after overcoming a shoulder injury that affected him last year, he is bowling better than ever.
His ability to take crucial wickets during the middle-overs, threatening both edges of the bat, is central to England’s plans. Morgan’s trust in Rashid is such that he is not averse to holding the spinner back to bowl an over later in the innings either.
Ali would also expect to be used more in India during the middle-overs, while Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson and Hampshire all-rounder Liam Dawson would be the likeliest back-ups in the spin department. As mentioned earlier though, Denly could also be an option while Root’s handy off-spin might come into consideration – he did take two wickets in the 2016 final after all.
“He’s brilliant and he has been over a long period of time and it’s the reason why he’s a leading wicket-taker in white-ball cricket.”
Moeen Ali on Adil Rashid
As for the seamers, Wood will also have a role to play in the middle-overs, the Durham fast bowler could bowl as many as three overs in the powerplay, leaving one to be used elsewhere and as death bowling isn’t considered his forte, a lively over or two in the middle – as seen in the series opener against Australia – could prove useful for England.
Stokes’ chance with the ball will likely come between overs seven and 16 as well while Archer, who was used in the same way as Wood – to good effect – in the same game, would still expect to have at least one over held back until the end.
Which brings up to those crucial death overs. In Chris Jordan and Tom Curran, England have two specialists. It may well prove to be a battle between the two of them for a place in the side, which would leave Archer – a fine death bowler himself – to share the responsibility with whichever of the duo got the nod.
“TC [Tom Curran] and CJ [Chris Jordan] are two of the best death bowlers in the world and do it all over the world.”
Australia’s Pat Cummins on Tom Curran and Chris Jordan
Jordan and Curran may bowl an over in the powerplay and another in the middle overs, but they are in the side for what they can do in the last four or five overs of an innings. Jordan has been doing it for years, he seemingly perfected the wide yorker on England’s run to the 2016 final and can vary his pace cleverly too.
Meanwhile, Curran’s greatest weapon is his back-of-the-hand slower ball, he’s got plenty of other variations too and can land his yorker when required but that slower ball is his trump card. That neither seem the least bit fazed when the pressure is on makes it incredibly difficult to pick between the two, perhaps Jordan’s brilliance in the field and added experience gives him the edge?
That said, if England stick with the same balance of side that they used against both Pakistan and Australia, it is hard to envisage an XI without either of Jordan or Curran. That balance could change when Stokes returns but should either of them miss out in favour of another batsman, Archer’s presence means Morgan would still have two high-class bowlers to round out at innings.
“We have shown a lot of faith in Chris Jordan because he’s earned it. He’s been one of our greatest ever T20 bowlers.”
Eoin Morgan on Chris Jordan
In terms of alternatives, Mahmood has a brilliant yorker and has performed the role for Lancashire while Sam Curran has done similarly for Surrey and Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. The trio of Archer, Jordan and Curran senior are the men in possession though.
England’s best T20 XI?
Plenty of options and Morgan has been very open in saying that England will continue to explore them in the lead up to next year’s T20 World Cup. However, the pool of players in the reckoning is certainly shrinking as the plans become clearer. Although the delay to the tournament does mean someone like Root might still have time to make a late run, if not for the XI then certainly for the squad.
It is incredibly tough to commit 11 names to paper and say that it is clearly England’s strongest at the moment but, screenshots at the ready, here goes:
Jos Buttler (wk), Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood.
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