England begin their campaign in the World Twenty20 today with genuine aspirations of triumph after 35 desolate years. It would be dangerous to think of this as a prediction since there are at least six other teams exuding a similar air of expectancy.
That is either the delightful advantage or the enduring failing of the shortest (so far, anyway, until Five5 is invented) format of the professional game: anybody can beat anybody. If England look better equipped than in the previous two versions of this competition, that suspicion is based as much on assurances from inside the camp and potential rather than past deeds.
Their opening match in Group D is against West Indies this afternoon (with Ireland to follow tomorrow) and the team will include an opening pair who have never played an international Twenty20 match and a left-arm spin bowler who has not played one for three years. Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter will form England's 16th opening pair in the 26 matches the side have played since the inaugural fixture in 2005.
This duo may be here to stay. But then again it may not, unless England have a clearer idea of what they are looking for. There is no question that their captain, Paul Collingwood, who has led them in both previous unsuccessful tournaments, in South Africa in 2007 and in England only last summer, is much more accomplished and relaxed.
"It's fair to say I'm much more comfortable with the captaincy," he said yesterday. "There's a lot read into it. If you get results you're seen as a great captain, if you don't you're seen as the worst captain in the world. That's the way it should be."
But the small moments can change the whole course of an innings, a match, a competition. It is the "for want of a nail" element.
"I will always remember Chris Schofield coming on against Albie Morkel in the first World Twenty20," Collingwood added, " and I knew at the time it was a punt. Chris came on and I dropped Morkel first ball and then he went and hit four sixes. Now if I had caught that ball everybody would have said what a piece of great genius but instead it was terrible captaincy. That's how it goes.
"I don't worry as much now as I did in the past at what people say about the decisions I make. That's one of the crucial things, I don't get too het up about it any more."
England's mercurial progress in the World Twenty20 at home last summer – defeated by the Netherlands but winning against the eventual champions, Pakistan – was eventually ended by West Indies, who enjoyed one of their grand nights. With their captain Chris Gayle almost certainly returning tonight after missing the opening victory against Ireland on Friday, they are immediately strengthened.
The pitch at the Providence ground is horrible for T20, however, and a score of 150 would be the peak of ambition. If the first innings was as low as 120 it would be far from impossible to defend. The ball will have so much pace taken off it that it will sometimes appear to be going backwards and it will be darted into areas where batsmen have difficulty freeing their hands.
If this makes for ugly cricket and not remotely what Twenty20 or the game as a whole in the Caribbean are meant to be, it must be conceded that it is not necessarily devoid of excitement. The tournament's opening match on Friday, when New Zealand chased down a modest target against Sri Lanka that seemed to be beyond them – and produced some big hitting towards the end – confirmed that low-scoring contests can be thrillers. But you have to be patient to get to the tipping point where tedium becomes excitement.
England will have three South Africans at the top of their order. The plan is for Lumb, recognised for his power hitting at the age of 30, and Kieswetter to give them a rapid start, followed by Kevin Pietersen. Collingwood seemed to indicate that the team has revisited its philosophy because of the Indian Premier League.
"I tend to disagree with people who say we shouldn't be losing wickets at the top of the order," he said. "Playing for Delhi in the IPL, having Sehwags and Warners and Gambhirs coming in and literally teeing off every ball, we were often three down after three overs. We'd be 45 or so in the fourth over when I went in with three down.
"Going in at five is part of your job to rebuild an innings hopefully after they have given you an exciting start. You don't actually have to push it along, so as long as they try to give you that real quick start you don't mind if you lose two wickets, although going to three or four is probably too much."
Expect England to be audacious and expect the same from West Indies. Actually, expect the same from all the big teams who have come to be obsessed by the opening six overs when fielding restrictions are in place. The trick then, of course, is to keep enough wickets in hand to try to have a slog in the final five overs. These two desires can conspire, especially on slower pitches with a ball gone as soft as a face flannel, to make for dull middle overs. Who would have thought it in T20?
England knew their team yesterday and probably had a firm idea about it three weeks ago. There seems to be one place up for grabs and Ryan Sidebottom may come in for Stuart Broad. While Broad has become an integral part of all England squads, it is also true that his form in this past year has not been sustained from match to match or even from spell to spell.
Sidebottom could have been jettisoned at any time in the past year because he has rarely been fit and he was 32 in January, entering pensionable territory for a fast bowler. But Collingwood made it clear that Sidebottom's different trajectory given by his left-handedness could be crucial, especially to right-handed batters trying to be adventurous towards the close. His accuracy helps as well. "He has a really good chance of playing," said Collingwood, either being deliberately misleading or giving Broad some bad news.
It is the first match between England and West Indies since Ottis Gibson left the former as bowling coach to join the latter as head coach. Gibson was highly thought of by England but Sir Vivian Richards, the former West Indies captain, has undermined him by referring to an alleged incident during Gibson's playing days.
Richards expressed his longstanding unhappiness with Gibson for having his feet up on the balcony while listening to music while West Indies "were going down the chute" in a Test match in Cape Town in 1999. Gibson is known to be upset by what he sees as a slur. Captain Gayle said: "You need every support you can get but I will give Ottis the chance to answer that. Our objective is not to get involved in certain things and I'm sure he can handle that."
Collingwood has taken to practicing recently with a five-pound bat, which then makes his conventional blade seem much lighter during matches. It is another device which shows England have begun to catch up. How much and whether it is enough will begun to be seen tonight in Providence.
*West Indies (possible): CH Gayle (capt), SC Chanderpaul, DJ Bravo, RR Sarwan, N Deonarine, D Ramdin, DJG Sammy, KA Pollard, SJ Benn, R Rampaul, KAJ Roach.
England (possible): PD Collingwood (capt), C Kieswetter, MG Lumb, KP Pietersen, EJG Morgan, LJ Wright, MH Yardy, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, RJ Sidebottom, JM Anderson
*Umpires: T Hill (NZ), R Koertzen (SA).
*Third umpire: B Bowden (NZ).
*Match referee: A Hurst (Aus).
*Pitch report: Likely to be slow and getting slower as ball becomes softer.
*TV: Sky Sports 1, 6-10pm
*Weather: Warm with light winds and chance of scattered showers. Maximum temperature: 29C.Reuse content