EEngland have one more game to play before kick-off T20 World Cup and a few questions that still need to be answered. However, the main problem that Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler have to contend with is the one that the coach and captain dreamed of when they picked the squad: which of these 15 players, all of them fit and the vast majority also in good form, can be missed? But also, what can be gained from an eighth game against Pakistan in a month?
Mott suggested on Friday that England’s final warm-up at the Gabba in Brisbane on Monday would be seen simply as an opportunity to sharpen the fitness of those players who need some game time and give those who have not played much since arriving in Australia after getting a taste of the action. He knows the team he would like to play against Afghanistan in England’s World Cup opener, and this is no excuse to play it.
This team will certainly change over the course of the tournament depending on fitness, opponents and conditions. But at the moment, the only players who would definitely not make the watchers’ first XI are Phil Salt, who was briefly overtaken by Alex Hales for a place at the top of the order, and David Willey, more than a victim of Sam’s outstanding recent performances Curran is bowling. The only player who seems to be playing well below his best is Adil Rashid, who is virtually unstoppable.
“That’s the beauty of English cricket at the moment,” Mott said on Friday night after repeated showers ruined England’s chances of a series whitewash over Australia. “Throughout this series and in Pakistan, we made a number of changes and never felt that we had diminished our chances of winning.”
England have changed in one notable way since Mott took over in May, and that should make them much stronger contenders to win this World Cup than last. In the last five years of Eoin Morgan’s captaincy, he never batted first at will, focusing on chasing rather than defending totals, which seemed desperately unwise when they were forced to bat first in crucial matches in the UAE, particularly in them semi-final loss to New Zealand.
England still favor the chase, as do most teams, but Buttler at least occasionally chooses not to. Under his captaincy, the England national team had to defend the overall result eight times, losing one and winning six. It looked like they were on their way to another win earlier rain intervened on Friday so there will be no fear when they face it again.
“I’ve always thought that as a team, you can’t set yourself up for one or the other — the flip of a coin can go either way,” Mott said. “Teams that put it together one way and then [the toss] doesn’t go their way, it makes it hard to win and psychologically they feel like they’re falling behind.
“From our batting line-up, when we bat first, there’s just a mantra of trying to make the most of every opportunity. It’s not that we hold back or leave anything out. That’s probably the key to what we think is going to happen next month.”
There is one big tactical question for England, which is whether to go with a bat-heavy line-up with just three specialist bowlers or four heavy bowlers. Given how little the number seven batsman has been doing – England’s number 7 has averaged 4.8 balls per game since the start of the last World Cup – there seems little point in selecting the number eight. But equally, knowing a lot of batting frees up those at the top to play without fear. A batsman can make a big contribution without even coming into contact with the ball.
Confidence is the key to success. England have had a tough summer, but a series win in Pakistan and another in Australia, where they lost all the toss but dominated every game, has boosted their belief at the perfect time.
“Looks like we got our mojo back,” Mott said. “We are in a good place at the moment. There are several teams who are potential winners of this World Cup, but we have as good a chance as anyone else.”