World Twenty20: Stuart Broad tells England to keep cool to avoid upset
Captain refuses to write off opponents today but knows the holders should be too strong
The champions begin their defence of the title tonight. At no time in history has it been possible to say that of England in one of the big limited-overs competitions – the majors of cricket.
When they won the World Twenty20 in 2010 it was to almost universal astonishment, although by the conclusion of that tournament in the Caribbean they were by some distance the best team in it.
It is their misfortune tonight to be playing Afghanistan, whose story is so romantic they are easily everybody's second favourite team – a category into which England rarely slot.
The expected result is an England win but three members of the side will remember that such was the case back in 2009 at Lord's for the first match of the second World Twenty20. Netherlands won by four wickets off the last ball.
Stuart Broad, the captain tonight in his first serious competition, was also there for the night Ireland defeated England in the 2011 World Cup. He will not want any repeat and in his dainty hands lie the responsibility for ensuring England stay calm and measured as Afghanistan, as they are bound to do for it is all they know and they have nothing to lose, launch their assault.
"The shorter the game the more dangerous these teams are and Afghanistan aren't going to hold back with the bat, put it that way," said Broad. "It will be important we keep our cool. You have to accept in Twenty20 that the ball will fly around at some stages but as long as we stick to what we do well I think we'll be fine. It's important for us to be aware of the dangers of Afghanistan and they are dangerous. But we also know our strengths."
If Afghanistan are dangerous – they scored 209-7 against Sri Lanka A in a warm-up match – they are also vulnerable. England's seam bowlers will, as it were, let the opposition know of their presence and there may not be many Yorkers on parade at the Premadasa Stadium.
By now, the tournament already needs a close, exciting game. It is England's job to ensure they are not involved in it at this early stage of proceedings. While it is true anything can happen in Twenty20, they should simply be too smart. If it is the most basic form of the international game it also has its own sophistications.
"I think teams adapt to conditions quicker now," said Broad. "That's what we did in the Caribbean. Whenever we came across windy grounds and slow wickets we hit with the wind and bowled into the wicket and made the opposition play into the wind.
"I think bowlers are a bit more open to bowling even six different balls an over and batsmen have worked out ways to hit 360 degrees of the ground."
England might have been tempted to play all three of their spinners but the nature of their opponents makes it unlikely. Graeme Swann will play but Danny Briggs, the 21-year-old left-arm spinner who acquitted himself so well in the second warm-up match against Pakistan, is far from certain to feature.
The preparation has been meticulous (outside distractions involving Kevin Pietersen apart) as you would expect of champions. The squad has already been together for a fortnight and Broad feels he has grown into the captaincy.
As a bowling captain he admits he will have attacking instincts, perhaps prepared to concede a four in pursuit of a wicket. Win and England are assured of a place in the next stage of the competition, the Super Eights, regardless of what happens against India on Sunday. Lose and the cricket world will never be the same again.
England (from): S C J Broad (capt), C Kieswetter (wkt), A D Hales, L J Wright, E J G Morgan, J M Bairstow, J C Buttler, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, D R Briggs, S T Finn, J W Dernbach, S R Patel.
Afghanistan (from): N Mangal (capt), M Shahzad (wkt), K Sadiq, A Stanikzai, M Nabi, S Shenwari, Shafiqullah, G Naib, N Zadran, D Zadran, S Zadran, H Hassan, I Dawlatzai, J Ahmadi, M N Baras.
Umpires S Taufel (Aus) & K Dharmasena (S Lanka)
Weather Sunshine and showers. Maximum temperature: 29C.
Odds Eng 1-20 Afghanistan 8-1.
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