Confidence and self-belief are running through the England team like an unstoppable virus. The infection is contagious. Two weeks ago any suggestion that they would be in the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 would have brought allegations of crankiness at best, nefarious dealings at worst.
But when Tim Bresnan, their new star all-rounder, said yesterday in his meaningful Yorkshire tones: "We're trying to keep our feet on the ground but if we play the brand of cricket we can play we should win this tournament," only a fool or an Australian would have argued.
England, as constructed under the inspired guidance of their coach Andy Flower, have been a revelation. Each player in the starting XI has been told their role and has stuck to it with glorious improvisations on the way. So unexpected has this been that as the Super 8 stage went on it was difficult to think that it really was England. The result is that the Twenty20 team has mirrored the progress of the 50-over team.
Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand were all cast aside with thoroughly intelligent cricket. England have broken a Twenty20 innings down into more or less a three-act play and know how they need to perform in each. The first six overs demand thunderous batting or tight seam bowling, the next eight consolidation in the form of bright but not reckless batting, or stifling spin, and the final six the charge for the line.
Their first victory in a world event is now much more than a mere pipe dream. Australia, inevitably, almost certainly lie in wait at some point and no Englishman would have it any other way.
There remains in Twenty20 an element of chance which is not present in other games. While the game can fluctuate bizarrely in short spaces of time, it also follows that one improbable innings or burst of bowling can win or lose a game. England have not come up against that, though they have dug themselves out of every potential hole. The Beausejour pitch on which they play their semi-final tomorrow is slow and may not wholly be to their advantage.
Bresnan exemplifies their progress. In 2006, when he was first called up by England to play against a rampant Sri Lanka he looked out of his depth. But gradually, and most assuredly this winter, he has become an outstanding international player, an authentic all-rounder. He has been entrusted with bowling the first and last overs in most innings and holds down the No 7 position. If you have to go into bat in that position in a Twenty20 match the likelihood is that your team is in the cart.
Bresnan yesterday seemed pleasantly self-aware of how far he and England have come. He is no longer a player who looks like a blacksmith's apprentice from Pontefract.
"I have devised a way of dealing with pressure moments. When I was telling Craig White, who coaches at Yorkshire, it wasn't coming out well, he said: 'Mate, who cares, you can only bowl as well as you can, you might be in a box tomorrow.' That takes the pressure off. I love cricket, I enjoy being in St Lucia staying in magnificent hotels. Who wouldn't? Life's not exactly a hardship."
There spoke a player from a winning side, a player who has grown with the team.Reuse content