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Impressive England can retain T20 World Cup but wounded India are favourites | Mark Ramprakash
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Impressive England can retain T20 World Cup but wounded India are favourites | Mark Ramprakash

England’s preparation for the T20 World Cup has not gone entirely to plan, thanks to rain in Leeds and Cardiff, but the glimpses we have seen have been very encouraging. In the two games against Pakistan that went ahead they looked like a team that has all bases covered. Jofra Archer’s return is huge: in this format he is high class, a real point of difference, and with him the team has quality and variety in its bowling attack.

Five years after he was fast-tracked into the England side Archer is set to finally play for his adopted country in the Caribbean, where he was born and raised. I wonder how that will make him feel, but also whether he feels he has a debt to repay, having been very well supported by the ECB through his injuries and despite a lot of time out of the game. Like many England fans, I am just looking forward to watching him play.

For all the focus on batting in T20s, there is a widely held opinion that top-level bowling attacks win tournaments – as Kolkata Knight Riders demonstrated in this year’s IPL. That makes this England team contenders. Mark Wood bowled with real pace at the Oval but I expect Archer to take the new ball in a formidable partnership with Reece Topley, who is a very handy left-arm option. Then you ally that with what might be one huge last hurrah for Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, two great friends who have been at the heart of England’s white-ball side for so long.

Rashid bowled beautifully in both games against Pakistan and he’s got all the tricks. He hasn’t played a huge amount of cricket recently, but that might help him physically. I was inspired to see in both games a team including Archer, Rashid, Moeen and Chris Jordan playing in front of vibrant, mixed crowds, a glimpse of a healthy and truly diverse game.

There has been a huge transition in England’s batting order in a short amount of time. Since they named their initial squad for last year’s 50-over World Cup Jason Roy and Dawid Malan have been eased out, while Jonny Bairstow is clinging on to a place in the side at No 4. Phil Salt and Will Jacks have come in, two fresh players who look like their stars are on the rise. They both impressed in the IPL, mixing with the big names of the game in high-pressure matches in front of huge crowds.

Virat Kohli after India lost the 50-over World Cup final to Australia on home soil.View image in fullscreen

T20 cricket is very different to Tests, where you might stick with players who are experienced and have performed in the past – if they are out of form they can get it back. In T20s you need to go with who’s hot, who’s fresh, who’s playing with no fear, and on that basis Salt and Jacks are perfect picks to join Jos Buttler, who has again had a stellar IPL and seems happy with life, at the top of the order. Buttler has been around long enough that people sometimes take him for granted, but he really is a phenomenon. By T20 standards he has achieved amazing consistency: he has worked out his game, found a brilliant way of controlling his emotions, and combines reliably high scores with impressive strike rates.

England have an advantage in being based in the Caribbean for the whole tournament, while other teams have been chosen to lead cricket’s latest attempt to break America. Modern international players are used to travelling, but in a format where games can hinge on one or two moments this could make a difference. I’m not sure scores at the World Cup will match those we saw at the IPL but locals in the US should still be enthralled by the number of sixes – or should I say home runs? – flying around.

Modern players continue to raise the bar in terms of power and six-hitting ability, evolving and improving the way they train, their strength and conditioning work, their focus on range hitting, working on their swing. Leading teams now have players from one to 11 who can hit sixes and it is no coincidence that of all international T20s, the four that featured the most sixes were all played in the last two years – two of them during England’s tour of the West Indies last December.

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Once teams reach the Super Eights the matches will be decided by such wafer-thin margins that predicting a likely winner is extremely difficult. Inevitably India will be favourites. What sets them apart is having a variety of batters who can score quickly, but also batters who can stick around and build an innings – the likes of Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Virat Kohli.

Australia and South Africa have lots of players who have just demonstrated in the IPL the ability to dominate in a variety of conditions, and West Indies should be really competitive again. I’m looking forward to a thrilling tournament, and I think England can have a real go at defending their trophy.

Source: theguardian.com