Currently England’s run rate is -0.11, West Indies is -0.62, New Zealand’s -0.27 and Sri Lanka’s +1.03. Confusing? England need to win and, even if they accomplish that – and on the form and composition of both sides it would be an astounding victory – they would still be reliant on West Indies either losing to New Zealand or it would be down to run-rates again. The reality is Sri Lanka are likely to beat England as they have ideal conditions, the pitch at Pallekele is getting drier and more spin-friendly, and they have “mystery” bowlers in Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath and Jeevan Mendis.
It was no surprise that England won yesterday, in resounding fashion as New Zealand play a similar style of cricket. They are orthodox but with less firepower than England.
The architects of England’s victory were Steven Finn with the ball and Luke Wright with the bat. Finn, when controlled and near full pace, can prove mightily difficult to attack and so it proved for the New Zealand top order. Martin Guptill was first to be dismissed, lbw, but it was when Finn followed up with the wicket of Brendon McCullum, caught by Wright, that England exerted a bit of a stranglehold. McCullum is one of the danger batters in world cricket and his cheap dismissal left New Zealand behind on both run-rate and big hitters.
Finn’s figures of 4-16 were based on offering little width and not one batter looked at ease as he banged the ball in short of a length and extracted steep bounce from the dry wicket. When Stuart Broad attempted something similar later in the innings he was smashed away for a boundary. Graeme Swann was also back to his parsimonious best but Danny Briggs, in for Samit Patel, was expensive. Still, without a late flourish by James Franklin aided by Nathan McCullum, New Zealand would only have posted 130. As the ball flew around the field at the end of the innings Broad looked nonplussed, never a good state for a captain. Plans for the death bowling may need rethinking but the truth is, in T20, one over can change a game.
When chasing, England never needed worry about a final thrash as Wright smashed the ball high and hard into the crowd between long-on and midwicket. His 76 off only 43 deliveries earned him man of the match and it was his best international innings, shrewd, calculated and yet devastating. The problem England have is that it was against an orthodox attack. Both spinners, Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum, were treated respectfully and the medium pace seamers launched into orbit. It is the English way but, against the likes of Sri Lanka, that does not work.
Tim Southee was particularly harshly dealt with by Wright, who looks so much better when he plays proper cricket shots rather than wild heaves. His five sixes were magnificent shots, all but one hit straight and even. Eoin Morgan supported ably and it is England’s belief, via statistical analysis, that he is at his best for the side when batting between the sixth and 20th overs.
So what England need is a blistering start and that is the job of the under-performing Craig Kieswetter, followed by a long innings from Morgan. To beat Sri Lanka and possibly progress they will have to smash the power-play overs and then accumulate off the spinners and hope to smash again at the very end. It is a tough challenge.