Tuesday, 1 December 2015

A team on the rise

Tuesday, 1 December 2015
It was difficult to know what to expect going into the Twenty20 series, the final leg of England's tour to the UAE. England were in an experimental mode, trying out many different faces and resting the more familiar as they search for their best eleven for the World Twenty20 in March next year. Their record since the last tournament might be a good one, but before this series, it was a record based upon four matches. With many new names around the squad - as well as a rather new coach - it was a chance for many to prove themselves worthy of making the trip to India in the spring.

Match one certainly showed their intent to mix it up. Despite being in the squad, players like Root and Buttler were absent from the side, with Sam Billings taking on the keeper's gloves and James Vince making his long-awaited debut. Both made their impact, too - Billings was the top scorer with 53 from just 25 balls, whilst Vince scored 41 and helped England recover from early setbacks that left them 19/3. Partnerships were key - the recovery between Vince and Morgan (45*); the later assault with Morgan and Billings, as 65 runs came from the last six overs to bring England's total to 160.

The bowlers did their job too, another attack with different faces. Topley continued to impress early in his international career, taking 3/24; whilst Stephen Parry took two wickets in his first match since England's defeat to the Netherlands at the previous World Twenty20. Parry has long been an important part of Lancashire's Twenty20 success, and showed he has something to offer England in India where spin will be important. The pick of the bowlers though was Liam Plunkett, something of a forgotten man on this tour and playing only his second international Twenty20 after making his debut back in 2006. Plunkett took 3/21, constantly looking a threat as his pace troubled the batsmen. What perhaps hurt Pakistan most though was the run out of Umar Akmal - as both he and Sohaib Maqsood were left sliding their bat in at the same end. It was comedy cricket at its finest, and the first of three wickets to tumble in the space of six deliveries. The lower order took Pakistan close, but they had been left with an uphill struggle. England took the first match by 14 runs.

England continued to mix things up in the second match. Morgan was out of the team as Buttler captained the side for the first time, with Moeen Ali was also missing out. No one player stood out with the bat for England as several made starts, Vince top scoring with a 24-ball 38 in England's total of 172/8. With Plunkett again taking three wickets, and Rashid taking 2/18 from his four overs, England looked to be heading for a comfortable victory. The run rate was getting out of hand for Pakistan, but Pakistan had Shahid Afridi. You never know when Afridi will go full Afridi, but it happened in match two. Pakistan needed 47 to win from 18 balls; Afridi faced eight and scored 24. But Woakes held his nerve. He had taken the brunt of Afridi's attack, but took his wicket with the last ball of the 18th over, and in the final over came out on top. England secured a narrow 3-run victory, and with a match still to play, the series was theirs.

When they fell to 86/6 in the last match, they'll have been glad the series was already secure, too. Both Roy and Moeen Ali had been dismissed for golden ducks, and both Buttler and Billings were out for single figures. This time Woakes starred with the bat, hitting 37 from 24 to help England's score to a competitive 154/8, and Vince again top scored with 46 in something of an anchor role as the wickets tumbled around him. Pakistan had a rather chaotic start to their reply: Willey's first over having a boundary, four wide balls down the legside, a wicket (bowled), and then a run out after another mix up that left both batsmen at the same end. But the game was never over - Shoaib Malik making 75 from 54 and Afridi starring again with 29. Pakistan needed ten from the final over, and after Tanvir hit a six on the second ball, victory looked like theirs. But it wasn't. A dot, a single, and finally the wicket of Malik, before a bye on the last ball that left scores tied.

A super over was called for. Pakistan would bat - unsurprisingly, Afridi was their man; surprisingly, Akmal was chosen over Malik. England chose Chris Jordan as their bowler, another surprise - in the main match he hadn't taken a wicket, and was their most expensive. But his super over was bang on. The fifth ball especially was spot on, a yorker that could only be hit back to him. Pakistan could muster only three runs, and Akmal was bowled on the last ball. Afridi took the ball for Pakistan, and though it wasn't easy for England either, Morgan and Buttler saw the job through. The matches got closer and closer, but England had come away with a 3-0 win.

And so, England have cause to be optimistic for the World Twenty20. An inexperienced group of players have impressed in both the Twenty20 and ODI games in new conditions for many, and though England still might not know their best eleven yet, they'll know more about what their players can do on this stage. It might be too soon to think that they have a chance come March, but the signs are there that this is a team on the rise, and there's certainly something to look forward to in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Two Short Legs © 2014