There was a moment in England's crushing victory over Afghanistan in the World Twenty20 that suggested they might have the right stuff to defend their title. It was the 19th over and Jonny Bairstow came in at 159 for four.
The night's hero, Luke Wright, was on 76no and Bairstow asked about the bowling. Wright informed him: "It looks like he's going for yorkers but he's not quite got it right."
To which Bairstow, with a Yorkshireman's common sense, replied: "OK, I'll have a look." The bowler, Izatullah Dawlatzai, duly produced a full-length delivery which was actually a no-ball, and Bairstow despatched it over long-on for six. "Yes, you're right," he said to his partner, "he's missed his yorker."
This little tale from the middle was related with some relish by Stuart Broad, England's T20 captain, for he realised what it meant for the well-being of his side.
"That confidence is what you want in a set-up," said Broad. "I think we have found a lovely timing. We have a youngish batting line-up which at times might not come off. We saw that at Durham against South Africa. But we have a three-week period here where it would be lovely if it did come off."
England will have a clearer idea of where they stand in this competition after their final group A match against India tonight. The defeat of Afghanistan on Friday by 116 runs was welcome because it was billed as one of those pesky ties that could so easily go wrong.
The Afghans, authors of the most heart-warming story in world sport, had nothing to lose and it was suspected that their free-spirited approach might derail any side, no matter how meticulously prepared. In the event, Afghanistan were beaten to the point of humiliation. England did what they had to do.
India are a different proposition, and while both teams have already qualified for the Super Eight stages, they will know that a run in this sort of concentrated tournament can be hard to stop.
It was how England won the title in the Caribbean two years ago. Having started slowly, they suddenly came alive and, after beating Pakistan by six wickets, they never looked back. That is why there will be no relaxing tonight at the Premadasa Stadium.
"Players take it really seriously now," said Broad. "Dancers and fireworks are important to T20 cricket but the actual game when you are out there is very serious."
Although they are the champions and officially ranked as the No 1 T20 side, England were seventh in the bookmakers' odds when they arrived in Sri Lanka last week. This has changed after the all-round solidity of their exhibition on Friday and will shift further if they overcome India.
As Broad hinted, it is possible that they have arrived at the perfect moment. Almost by accident, it could be that they have found a No 3 in Luke Wright, who finished on an electrifying 99no on Friday. When England won in 2010, the runs of Kevin Pietersen at No 3 were irreplaceable.
Wright is probably no Pietersen, but he is in the form of his life, a far different batsman from the frenetic whirlwind who used to appear in the late middle order. He was given his opportunity here only because of Ravi Bopara's loss of form, and in the warm-up games and the tournament proper he has looked the part.
Make no mistake, it would amuse England hugely if he could reproduce some of what Pietersen did last time. "He's shown a really big maturity actually," said Broad. "That was shown in Friday's innings. He came in a difficult position.
"But he adapts to conditions really well, he's really grown up as a cricketer. It's really good to have a guy coming in at three who's confident because it's a pivotal position to bat in Twenty20 cricket and any team would want a guy who can clear the ropes like that in their side." So there, Kev.
It is India's frequent way in these matters to do just enough. Perhaps this is bestowed by the enduringly placid temperament of their captain, MS Dhoni. But they look vulnerable here, taking a huge risk by playing only four specialist bowlers, not all of whom are up to it.
They are depending on their batting to see them through, which may not be enough. But in 23-year-old Virat Kohli, they have the limited-overs batsman de nos jours. He has scored five hundreds in his last nine one-day international innings and three consecutive T20 fifties.
England's fundamental system is fairly simple: while batting, keep wickets in hand at the top of the innings and blast later on, and while bowling take three early wickets so opponents have no way back. It might just work.Reuse content