What comes next for the men who took England to the top of the world?
Twenty20 stars hope to break into the Test side, but first Strauss must settle in with a new power base. Stephen Brenkley reports
Tuesday 18 May 2010
England batted better, bowled better and fielded better. Apart from that there was no reason at all that they should have become the World Twenty20 champions.
There are too many of these competitions, coming along quicker than flights after a volcanic ash scare. It had been only 10 months since the last global Twenty20 tournament (pity Pakistan for being deprived of their throne so swiftly) and next year in India the World Cup for 50 overs, the original but no longer the best, is to be held.
The year after that there will be another limited-overs gathering of some sort yet to be confirmed. It is easier to list the boxing champions in every weight category under every board, together with the table of chemical elements in alphabetical order, than it is to name the holders of the various limited-overs cricket titles. Until Sunday, if you were in doubt, it was safe to gamble on Australia.
If the International Cricket Council fails to sort out this mess then it is in danger of confusing its considerable public to the point of terminal tedium. It will also ensure the demise of Test cricket about which it continues to talk a good game whilst doing nowt. None of which can detract from the authenticity of England's triumph.
For 35 years since the inception of the World Cup – oh what a heady time it was in that early summer of 1975 – England have been trying and failing to prove themselves the best at some form of the limited-overs game or other. They have come close before. In 1992 in Australia they were probably the most accomplished side but perhaps peaked too soon and ultimately lost the final to Pakistan.
There had been four finals in all in 18 tournaments. But lately and almost uniformly, England had been wretched. They had turned up to places without a hope, an aspiration that they all too quickly fulfilled. This is what makes their formidable victory in the third World Twenty20 the more surprising: the best team won.
The defeat of Australia by seven wickets with three overs to spare was clinical and outrageous. Imagine beating them in an Ashes Test by an innings on the fourth morning and there is some sense of the magnitude of it.
Nor was it a lone victory. England assembled a sequence from the second, so called Super Eight stage, on. In every department of the game they knew what they were doing and did it. At the start it was easy to be sceptical about their combination which seemed to have been assembled on a wing and a prayer. Two of their squad, do not forget, had never played an international T20 match, another had been out of the reckoning and perhaps mind for three years.
Their best player, Kevin Pietersen, had been worryingly out of form for months. But the first three, Michael Lumb, Craig Kieswetter and Mike Yardy, took to it as to the manor born and Pietersen returned to his dramatic peak, as deserving to be named as player of the tournament as England were to win it.
The selectors, it seemed, knew what they were doing all along: whether batting or bowling, hit the opposition hard at the top, then stifle them in the middle and let them know what you are about again at the end. It was thrilling stuff, all the better for being so unfamiliar, and it is a template that will be transferred to the 50-over game, and who knows, to Test cricket, for timidity and attrition will not retain the Ashes in Australia this winter. The stock of players such as Eoin Morgan and Tim Bresnan has risen as if in a bull market.
Andy Flower, who formally took over only a year ago, now stands alone in English cricketing history as the only coach to have guided the side to victories in both an Ashes and an ICC trophy. He steadfastly avoided taking any of the credit in the warm aftermath of seeing off the oldest enemy, the significance of which even a man who played all his international cricket for Zimbabwe was well aware.
"Our cricket has been very good, and make no mistake the guys have worked bloody hard at their games and put a lot of thought into it," he said. "The help they've had from the support staff has been excellent. The new bowling coach, David Saker, has fitted in seamlessly and done a good job.
"Everyone has seen the improvements in the fielding standards. Some of that is selection and some the methods the fielding coach, Richard Halsall, has used to get people excited about fielding for England. I also think some of Graham Gooch's influence has been important even though he's not here.
"When he he has been with us he has made some impactful influences on our batsmen. In some way it has been technical with some of them and then in a big way mentally too. There has been a really good input from the support staff but in the end it is the guys who go over the line that deserve the credit."
Not a mention of the part played by Flower himself, who was instrumental in gathering this support staff around him and who orchestrated the grand plan.
At risk of raining on this parade – though nobody has yet, thankfully, proposed an open top bus ride to Trafalgar a la Ashes triumph 2005 – there are some niggling concerns.
The first is the return to the squad, in time for the first Test against Bangladesh next week, of Andrew Strauss, the man whom everybody thinks of as England's cricket captain. But for almost six months, while the team have been playing, Strauss has filled the role in name only.
He missed the tour to Bangladesh, when Alastair Cook led England to a whitewash in one-dayers and Test matches and he has been absent, again of his own volition, from the World Twenty20, while Paul Collingwood has led them to glory.
Nobody could have ever predicted that Collingwood, a homely yeoman of Durham, would be the fellow to lead England to this momentous triumph but his name will now live on.
Strauss, then, returns against this backdrop, still claiming this to be his team. Perhaps he will because he has proved himself to have immense leadership credentials. But the situation may now be different, the balance of the changing room may have shifted. Flower, however, considers that it will be a seamless transition and he has been right about many things so far.
The second niggle is the composition of the team, with three players of South African birth and upbringing, Pietersen, Kieswetter and Lumb. They have pledged their loyalty and allegiance to England which is well and good but the whole reason for international sport – as opposed to club sport – is for nation to play nation in a spirit of friendly rivalry just to see how each other is getting along at a particular point in time. It is supposed to reflect the fluctuations, culture and, yes, diversity of that society and anything else – not least mention of the mantra of globalisation – misses the point.
But this may be to cavil. England were a pleasure to watch. They were simply splendid.
THREE'S A CROWD – WHAT NEXT FOR THE ENGLAND CAPTAINS?
Successful, thoughtful and mature leader in Bangladesh, but England eventually want just one captain – so where does that leave him?
Everybody says it is still his team. Perhaps he deserves it to be so but he must regain control and respect immediately.
Elevated to a mythic status that will endure forever, captain of the world champions. Superb, but who'd have thought it?
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