England get their T20 World Cup campaign under way against the West Indies on Saturday hoping to gain a measure of revenge after being beaten by the islanders in the 2016 final.
Debate about England’s final XI seems likely to carry on until the toss at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, with England captain Eoin Morgan renowned for keeping his cards close to his chest.
Here, the PA news agency looks at their options and assesses a few other important issues ahead of the duel in the desert.
Eoin Morgan has suggested he would drop himself if his low run of scores hindered England during the tournament but there seems no chance of that happening at the outset. Will Dawid Malan’s form, his tendency to start quietly before emphatically kicking on and his occasional struggles against spin lead to the world’s top-ranked T20 batter being axed at the 11th hour? If so, does that mean roles higher up the order for Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone? The pair could both supplement leg-spinner Adil Rashid among the slow bowlers. The make-up of the pace attack is also unclear with three or four berths among Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills and David Willey.
England doing their dew diligence
Only one of England’s scheduled games is set to take place during the day. While that keeps them out of the unrelenting heat in the United Arab Emirates, Willey revealed two factors that could trouble bowlers’ ability to grip the ball properly at night. The evening humidity against India in a warm-up a few days ago left many England players visibly saturated in sweat while it is likely to leave a heavy amount of dew on the pitch and in the outfield, leading to a wet ball. This could acutely impact spinners and could even affect the balance of the team. Willey says England’s unit will prepare for what lies ahead by bowling with balls soaked in buckets of water.
But for Carlos Brathwaite’s big-hitting, England could already be double world champions, having won the 50-over tournament two years ago. England’s run to the final of the 2016 World Twenty20 – since rebranded to the T20 World Cup – had a heartbreaking conclusion. However, they have two bites to become the first side to hold both limited-overs world crowns simultaneously: over the next few weeks and in Australia next year. If Morgan can lift one of those trophies then he could go down not just as one of England’s greatest captains – that is already assured – but one of the greatest cricketing leaders of all-time. The revered Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the only man so far to skipper a side to both World Cups, with T20 glory in 2007 and the 50-over crown four years later.
England have played five matches against the Windies in this competition – and lost all of them. A couple, in truth, have been down to fortune as the Windies have benefited from the intervention of rain. But they were blitzed by a Chris Gayle masterclass in their group game in 2016 before Brathwaite’s astonishing cameo in the final denied England. Brathwaite, though, has been out of the equation for two years and just four players: Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo remain from that match – England by contrast have retained seven of their XI – but they remain a formidable unit and among the favourites to at least make it out of the Super 12 stage.
Group of death?
England’s group have drawn a bit of a short straw as the two sides to qualify from the first round are Test-playing nations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, sides that are much more proficient in spin-friendly conditions. They may have preferred Scotland and Namibia – two sides that have surprised in this tournament. But Morgan said at his pre-match press conference: “The name of the country on the shirt is irrelevant really when it comes to a World Cup, because you need to prove your worth through performance.”