Today new writer Ollie Phillips argues that England’s team selection during the T20 series displayed worrying signs of hubris.
Winning the World Cup in 2019 capped off an incredible turnaround of England’s white-ball fortunes. It was a watershed moment for the sport in this country and one that England fans will never forget – bar the odd moment made hazy by one libation too many.
Eoin Morgan’s team have become a tremendous limited-overs outfit, and they displayed some of their quality in the recent T20 series against India. But, amongst all the praise, did these five twenty-over games suggest that England have become a touch intoxicated by their unprecedented success?
England’s white ball skipper was granted his strongest possible squad, whereas Joe Root was deprived. Let’s not go there – you could argue all day about the ECB’s alleged betrayal of Test cricket, but what it did was give Morgan a golden opportunity to prepare for the T20 World Cup in India this October.
Team selection during the five matches was a real concern. Far be it from me to question our greatest white-ball captain, but watching India win the series and unearth fresh international talent, one could only think: “surely we’ve missed a trick here?”
It’s great that Morgan knows his best eleven, but this was a series for answering questions. You feel that by making just one change over five matches, England have left themselves with more unknowns than before.
Let’s look first at what we actually learned. Mark Wood is very quick. Jofra Archer is an excellent T20 cricketer. Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow bat brilliantly when the ball is white in colour. Forgive me, but I reckon even the most apathetic of England fans could have told you that a year ago.
Tongue out of cheek, England did show excellent progress in terms of taking early wickets, and Adil Rashid looks increasingly mature and dangerous with ball in hand. I also respect the desire to build a dynamic between England’s best eleven or twelve players, as stability can be a positive factor.
However, have England not mixed up their formats in this regard? After much talk of building a larger, competitive squad through rotation during the Tests, they ditched this philosophy completely for the T20s. Are stability and constancy of personnel not far more important in the Test arena?
When it comes to twenty overs per side, one could actually argue that consistency eventually becomes detrimental. It certainly did during this series. In the first and third T20Is, England were excellent with the ball and the top order comfortably chased modest totals. But by the fourth and fifth game there was an air of predictability about the side. India learned how to use the pace of Wood and Archer, and accessed the vulnerability of England’s secondary bowling options. In short, England lacked a plan B.
India, meanwhile, showed the importance of versatility. They brought in Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, two huge ticks for the tournament in seven months’ time. As KL Rahul faltered, Kohli remedied the situation in the decider by shunting himself to the top of the order.
Losing the series is no shame whatsoever, but in each of Morgan’s post-match interviews he stressed the concept of learning lessons. Maybe the ‘strongest’ XI learnt about the rhythm of the game in these conditions but, as a whole, England’s approach contradicted Eoin’s outspoken desire to discover new things.
In not giving opportunities to Liam Livingstone, Sam Billings or Reece Topley, England will go into the World T20 without proven backups in Indian conditions. It is here where you could say they showed a touch of arrogance.
England are, I repeat, very strong in this format. But I don’t think they are quite as good as they think they are. They are certainly not good enough to disregard the importance of a plan B for October. Their failure to do so is particularly worrying in a year where hectic schedules and COVID bubbles render the likelihood of being able to pick your best XI fairly slim.
Stickling with the same team suggests to me that England believe they are the finished article. This mindset threatens a certain stagnation. Meanwhile, India’s talent mill – unique as it may be – whirrs on. Although England have reached the top of the T20 rankings, they will not stay there if they refuse to experiment and expand their squad.
T20 is developing at a faster pace than any other format. Unpredictability still plays a huge role in winning games. Having emerged from a limited-overs dark age with such grace, England risk collapsing back in on themselves if they do not build on their recent success. They simply cannot afford to miss such brilliant opportunities to innovate and grow as a group.