The men’s Twenty20 match between England and Australia today is in many ways the runt of this summer’s international litter. It is a solitary match placed between the exhilarating Ashes rubber and the five match one-day series, a format in which England are suddenly reborn.
This match appears to lack context and it has also lost its allure as part of a T20 double-header. The women’s match preceding it was supposed to be the climax to their Ashes, or at least a celebration of England retaining the urn. Sadly, Australia have dominated that series and the prize has already changed hands. So now there are two matches at Sophia Gardens with little riding on them.
But for the men there is something of significance. England have only six T20s to play before the next world championship in India next spring, thankfully the last time the tournament will be played as a biennial event.
International T20 exists, in essence, only for that tournament. It is played minimally for the rest of the time. Players learn about the shortest format in the myriad domestic competitions around the globe. Thus, the match today does indeed have a kind of purpose. England – and to a lesser extent their opponents – will seek to advance the progress of a team that might compete in India next year. Since becoming surprise runaway winners in 2010, England have patently failed to evolve.
“We simply haven’t been good enough,” England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, said yesterday. “Our skill level hasn’t been good enough to string enough wins together. We’ve had a couple of World Cups since then and we haven’t peaked at the right time. We have the players, but we need them in good form and to form the right plan to suit the players that we have. We want to get a formula together before the next World Cup.”
With due deference to the heroes of the West Indies, this is probably the most exciting bunch of short-form players assembled by England. It consists of the first generation of professionals brought up on T20 cricket, who see innovation and attack as integral components of the game. This is personified by Jos Buttler but with the likes of Alex Hales, Sam Billings, Jason Roy and David Willey in tow. They are fearless, they understand that T20 matches can be won from any position – and if they are not always masters of rigorous method they recognise that rapid improvisation can be a greater ally.
Morgan himself is in a run of dire form. He has not played for Middlesex since 1 August after he agreed with the county’s director of cricket, Angus Fraser, who is also an England selector, that he needed a rest. “I was the one who brought it up. I sat down with Gus and discussed the pros and cons of it,” said Morgan. “To start with, Gus was very understanding and brilliant in the way he managed it, because he said the priority was English cricket.
“But we talked about the benefits of it and, sitting here now, I’m probably twice the man I was a month ago because of the schedule, the hectic nature of it, the amount of cricket we play and the very little time off.” Morgan now has to repay Middlesex with some victories for England.
Probable teams: England E Morgan (capt), M Ali, S Billings, J Buttler, S Finn, A Hales, A Rashid, J Roy, B Stokes, D Willey, C Woakes.
Australia S Smith (capt), D Warner, S Watson, G Maxwell, M Marsh, M Stoinis, M Wade, N Coulter-Nile, M Starc, P Cummins, C Boyce.
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