They have moved on where others have appeared to stand still. Their split-coach method is something sides will want to look at imitating
The best team won. It came easier than it might have done, with the sight of Shaheen Shah Afridi limping from the field of play after just one ball of his third over, but no one could reasonably argue against the fact that England have the most bases covered. Indeed, a surprise of the tournament was how few bases have been covered by some of the pretenders.
Only a year has passed since the last T20 World Cup but England have moved on, while most others appear to have stood still. The buy-in to this fearless style of cricket is the thing, along with the lack of judgement from those at the helm when events occasionally go pear-shaped. It is driven by free spirit and a form of unbridled expression that is filtering through the English system. When England lost the Lord’s Test to South Africa last summer, the general opinion was that the batters should have reined themselves in against a fast and accurate attack. When asked about this in the post-mortem, Brendon McCullum went all counterintuitive with his belief that in such conditions and against that opponent, England should have gone harder. The consequent trickle-down was even seen in county cricket, where big scores were chased with relish. In the Hundred, some of the batting was outrageous.
Having said that, brains matter. For all his buccaneering, Ben Stokes applies the most forensic of minds to the white-ball chase. He knows when to soak it up, like a boxer on the ropes for a while, wearing down his opponent, and he knows when to strike back. In the 2019 one-day final at Lord’s, he played a truly great innings - one of the best three I can think of in World Cup cricket - while at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, his batting was a little less tidy, as if he were in a street fight. At times the angled bat, over-complicated footwork and penchant for looking to run fast legcutters for a single to third man appeared to have cost him, but they did not, however animated the appealing of the Pakistanis. In fact, the more those bowlers beat his bat, the more he smiled at the absurdity of it all.
When Afridi left the field for the second and last time, Stokes pounced on Babar Azam’s decision to finish the five remaining balls of the over with Iftikar Ahmed’s offies. By heaven, what a gamble! Immediately the move seemed like it had worked as England’s talismanic allrounder threw all he had at a nothing ball a tad outside off stump and mishit it so badly that it fell agonisingly shot of Babar at deep mid-off: Stokes was so sure he was out, he barely ran. After that, they had to stop the fight. Ten off the last two balls of that over were complemented by three Moeen Ali boundaries in the next over and that was that. T20 games disappear from your grasp quicker than a magician’s hand.
A full set from Afridi - the Wasim Akram of the day - would have made it tighter, but with the batting to come and Stokes’ extraordinary temperament and talent to guide it through, an England win remained the more likely outcome.
It was a rum business for Pakistan - a thrilling team in so many ways - but as Babar admitted, they were 20 short with the bat. In part, this was of their own doing, especially in the final stanza of the innings, but England were impressive with the ball. Well, Adil Rashid and Sam Curran were hugely impressive and the others stacked up solidly enough alongside them. Fact: the combined figures for Rashid and Curran were 5 for 34 off eight. That’s ridiculous. Three of those wickets and only 12 of those runs were down to Curran. His father was Kevin, the bruising Zimbabwe allrounder who died young from a heart issue while out on a run ten years ago. One can only begin to imagine the pride he must have had looking down from somewhere above the Spidercam.
Watching these two at work in the shadow of the Shane Warne Stand was a particular joy, for they were about skill and deception. Rashid started the rot, beating Mohammad Haris in the flight and fooling Babar with the googly. It wasn’t just that he dismissed Babar, it was that he made the world’s most elegant batter look clueless, and you don’t see that often, if at all. At the ground Warne loved more than any other, Rashid spun it and swerved it, floated it and dipped it just like the master we all so miss would have done to the delight of those Melbourne crowds that adored him.
Curran seamed it, swung it, wobbled it, cut it, slowed it down, sped it up, bounced it, looped it and generally ran amok. His confidence is high, his heart big, his mind ahead of most of the blokes taking guard; and he can bat and field too. A word for his Mum, Sarah, his brothers, Tom and Ben, and for Allan Lamb too: they all played their part in Sam’s fulfillment and this terrific day for English cricket. In addition to Alec Stewart’s fatherly hand at Surrey, a key aspect of the Curran education has been the IPL, where time spent with MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming - as well as playing a run of high-standard T20 cricket - has been invaluable.
I say this because, from afar (which is not the best informed place for comment), it appears that the IPL is not the go-to reference for selection it might be. Perhaps the same can be said of the Big Bash. The obvious signs are ignored in favour of existing perceptions, which can lead to blind faith. To those of us on the outside, it seems the strangest thing to omit Rishabh Pant from any T20 team. If you were selecting on the principle of whom the opposition least want to play against, Pant might be first choice.
Both India and Australia need a T20 reset, which almost certainly means the purging of a few popular faces, but if not, a rapid change in agenda. Pant’s devil-may-care approach is the zeitgeist and there are new kids ready to step on the block within both of these great cricketing traditions.
Something that requires urgent attention for all teams around the world is the splitting of coaches. Initially this sort of thing was thought to create confusion, but England have proved that the move actually provides greater stability, with the head coach and support staff focused and energised by the project for which they have sole responsibility. This allows a more objective look at players, and the possibility of regenerating those who have lost their mojo in one format by relocating them to another. Matthew Mott came with high praise and has not disappointed. In a burst of McCullum-esque conviction he suggested England were timid in defeat against Ireland and asked for a more attacking mindset from the batters.
Each batter has to work out exactly what this means. The bigger playing areas in Australia lead to fewer sixes and more hard running between the wickets. Spinners can therefore give the ball more air, rather than get away with simply bowling a hard length into the pitch. Equally, at the MCG for example, the quicks can bowl back of a length and even short, knowing that the boundary riders provide serious wicket-taking options. Liam Livingstone’s third catch, deep in the leg side in the final, was taken with a kind of “Really, again… so you think I ever drop these?” inevitability. In Adelaide the quicks pitch up and place the Livingstones at deep mid-off and deep mid-on. It’s not rocket science but it is the kind of detail that is as important to a batter’s response as to a bowler’s planning.
A word for the upsetters - Namibia, Scotland, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Netherlands all put some big names to shame. The biggest shock - tinged with more than a hint of irony - came when the Dutch, with a few South Africans of their own in their ranks, blew South Africa out of the tournament. This allowed Pakistan a second chance at the semi-final place all South Africans assumed was theirs, a chance that was gobbled up. No doubt, the smaller teams have improved and will continue to do so; professionalism and wider opportunity ensure as much. It is a truism that the lowest common denominator evens things up. T20 is, therefore, the most likely of the international formats to create an upset. Even so, South Africa’s defeat further fuelled the mickey-taking that has haunted their players and supporters since the 1990s.
Sure, it rained a bit around the Great Southern Land but it was fun otherwise, primarily because the pitches in Australia gave more to the bowler. This balance between bat and ball is all that really matters for cricket to thrive. The tournament finished with the most attacking batting side playing the most attacking bowling side in a match that, but for an injury, might have gone to the wire.
Naturally, if the home team fails to reach the knockout stage a bit of momentum is lost but India filled a semi-final ground and Pakistan all but filled the MCG for the final. There wasn’t much not to like. Cricket is in a good place but the message should remain that, wherever possible, less is more. That way we will continue to marvel at the incredible cricketers of the age. –Cricinfo