• Eoin Morgan will be delighted with the additions of Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler as they face three more T20s in quick succession, this time against the old enemy Australia
  • The Aussies haven’t played in a competitive game since March, and were on the wrong side of a World Cup semi-final hammering the last time the two teams met in white ball cricket
  • With Jason Roy still struggling for fitness, Tom Banton will get another opportunity at the top of the order after impressing in the Pakistan series
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – Eoin Morgan has previously bemoaned his England side not being at full strength for white-ball games outside of a major tournament, but as the Aussies roll into town, key players are back in the frame

 

 

England showed some good signs against Pakistan in the two completed T20Is, but would’ve been ultimately disappointed to share the series. Moeen Ali showed his doubters why he is so important to this white-ball side, even in a losing cause, and 21-year-old Tom Banton played like a man well ahead of his years at the top of the order, finishing as his side’s top run scorer.

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However, experience proved key for their opponents as 39-year-old Mohammad Hafeez scored 69 off 36 and an unbeaten 86 off 52 balls to set up his side’s victory on Tuesday night. The average age of England’s pace attack in the third game was a touch under 27, and if you take Chris Jordan‘s relative experience out of the equation, the other three have just 35 T20Is worth of experience to club together. Although, as Banton proved, experience isn’t everything, it certainly helps if you’ve been in a pressure situation at the highest level before.

Look at Moeen’s performance with the bat when chasing 191. He came to the crease with England still requiring 122 off 12 overs, and pulverised the Pakistan attack to score a 25-ball half-century. Unfortunately for England, they had lost their captain, Jonny Bairstow, and their two in-form players already. Moeen only had Sam Billings and Lewis Gregory for support, and despite both being in their late twenties, did not have the required international maturity to see the game through when it looked like the game had swung back in the home side’s favour.

Morgan’s exasperated press conference before the Pakistan series – lamenting the fact his T20 side is rarely at full strength, as you can see here in our Pakistan series preview – was telling, as was his decision to back Moeen to the point he asked the all-rounder to lead the team talk before the third T20, where the Worcestershire man took a wicket with his first ball before smashing 61 with the bat. As reported by ESPNCricinfo, the T20 vice-captain was vociferous in his praise of England’s skipper:

“A lot of credit should go to Eoin Morgan. He’s given me the responsibility in terms of being the vice-captain and doing team talks here and there. To get that backing from the captain… it’s one of the reasons he’s the best captain I’ve had. He gives me a lot of confidence. I haven’t played well for a good period of time now and for my captain to think highly of me, for me that means a lot.

“He came up to me and said ‘Would you like to give the team-talk?’ It makes me feel responsible and a big part of the team. I have to back what I say as well, so I can’t give the boys inspiration if I can’t do it myself. It makes me feel me quite special among the boys and a big part of this team.”

The point in bringing up these quotes from Moeen ahead of the Australia series is, well, Morgan doesn’t get a lot wrong. The statement ‘we won’t head to the World Cup as contenders if we are always taking to the field with a half-strength team’ was a strong one, but the selectors have certainly listened.

 

Big guns

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Although Morgan’s squads have been slightly hampered by the logistical challenge of keeping red-ball and white-ball sides separate due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the selectors have chosen to go for full-strength at the first opportunity. Jos ButtlerJofra ArcherMark Wood and Sam Curran all join both the T20 and ODI squads for the visit of their fiercest rivals Australia. Saqib Mahmood, despite being England’s quickest bowler in the Pakistan T20s, has been dropped to the reserve bench, but Banton and Dawid Malan have both been retained after compiling half-centuries in Manchester.

Now Morgan has got his wish with the Test players coming back into the white ball setup, he has to decide what roles they should play. Archer’s is pretty obvious, having been the breakout bowler of the 50-over World Cup last summer with new ball and at the death, including bowling the Super Over which led to the most dramatic denouement in World Cup history. Expect Archer to try and crank up the pace in short spells at the beginning and end of the Australian innings, where the pressure is at its highest.

That takes some of the pressure off Tom Curran, who will probably be saved for the middle overs when there is more protection in the deep for him, although he bowled a beauty to dismiss the world no.1 T20 batsman Babar Azam clean bowled during the powerplay on Tuesday night. He will be potentially be battling it out for a place in the side against his younger brother Sam who provides the variety of a left-arm angle, but perhaps doesn’t have the range of variations and a quality yorker that his brother has in his armoury.

Wood’s selection is interesting. He is almost guaranteed to play a big part in these games because of being rested for five consecutive Test matches after being picked in the opener vs West Indies at the expense of Stuart Broad (and we all know what happened after that!) Despite being a major part of England’s 50-over success last summer, Wood’s T20 record isn’t quite as sparkling after being carted around South Africa in his last T20I outing in February.

“I didn’t bowl very well in South Africa, if I’m honest,” Wood said, as reported by ESPNCricinfo. “I got smacked to every part of South Africa and the ball landed in every part of that country. I’ve got to do a lot of improvement if I want to get into that team because I didn’t do myself justice there. My skills were not quite on it. I’m under a little bit of pressure here to prove that I deserve to be in the side because we’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of good bowlers. If I get the chance I’ll be trying to prove that I’ve got the skills.”

Asked about what skills he’ll be trying to execute against the Aussies, the Durham fast bowler said: “I’ll still be trying to bowl as fast as I can at times. You’ve got to be adaptable with slower balls and you’ve got to watch the batters a little bit more and be a little bit more on it because you’re not having three slips and a gully. When I first started 50-over cricket, I opened the bowling for England then when Jofra played the World Cup with Woakesy opening the bowling, I went to first change and I enjoyed that role. It’s never easy bowling in Twenty20, whether you’re up front or you’re in the middle. They’re coming at you 24/7.”

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Of all those Test players returning, Jos Buttler is the man most in-form. Man of the series during his red ball ventures against Pakistan, Buttler will be looking to impose himself in a format that most suits his game. The big question for England is where in the order he bats. While Banton impressed opening the batting last week, Buttler is England’s most experienced and most talented batter, and the common mode of thought is your best batsman should get the full 20 overs to cause maximum destruction. England’s first ever T20 captain Michael Vaughan believes the jury is still out on where Buttler should bat, but favours the Lancashire ‘keeper opening.

As reported by William Hill, Vaughan claimed: “I think Buttler at the top of the order [will impress]. Again, it’s a debate whether you feel he should be there or in the middle, [but] he’ll have an absolute field day in Southampton – he loves batting there, has got a load of Test runs, got plenty of white ball runs there. So I think Buttler will be the dominant force for England with the bat.”

That brings into question where Banton will fit into the side, with his best performances in T20 coming as an opener. With England unlikely to demote World Cup winner Bairstow, England have a headache in terms of where their batsmen will prove most effective. Joe Root continues to be excluded from the T20 format for the time being, although England’s national selector Ed Smith made clear to his Test skipper that the door certainly isn’t closed to him in the shortest format.

Australian threats

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Australia, like England, have brought across a strong squad to join the bio-secure bubble for three T20s and three ODIs, which start today (September 4) and conclude 12 days later, with the ODIs in Manchester. In their intra-squad T20 warm-up, Australia played two games and two centurions impressed: Alex Carey, Australia’s first-choice wicket-keeper in white ball cricket, bludgeoned 157 runs across both matches while Marnus Labuschagne, one of Australia’s Ashes heroes, made his claim for a T20I debut with a 51-ball 100.

However, Labuschagne is still likely to miss out because Australia, much like their hosts, have incredible top-order depth. David WarnerAaron Finch and Steve Smith are likely to walk out as Australia’s top three, all of whom have incredible white ball records. Either way, coach Justin Langer has been impressed with the performances of those currently outside the starting XI.

As reported by ESPNCricinfo, Langer said: We’ve had a pretty settled T20 side over the last 12 months or so and all we can ask for is that guys bang so hard they are putting pressure on the guys in there. So, whether Marnus plays this series or not, or certainly the first game on Friday night, time will tell. We haven’t decided that yet. But he’s certainly done, as has always been the way since coming into international cricket, everything he possibly could. He was hitting Pat Cummins, the world’s best, over point for six.”

This series marks the top T20 sides in the world going head-to-head, according to the ICC rankings, so expect high quality, high tension cricket with plenty of runs and all three games going down to the wire. Whatever way it swings, there are plenty of big players desperate to make an impression, and that can only be a good thing for those waiting to be entertained.

 




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