[Exclusive by John Fuller]
England can win the ICC World T20. Yes, you did read that right. They aren’t usually the team that springs to mind, when mulling over the frontrunners, but all the constituent parts for a cup run are there.
No-one expected England to reach, let alone triumph in, the 2010 World T20 final out in the West Indies but everything clunked into place, allied with some stand-out performances including some bloke called KP.
If you cast your eye down the ICC world rankings then England, as a team, are fourth – a fair reflection of their string of victories over the past year, home and away.
Optimism around England’s prospects is in part due to the imperious way they swept aside Pakistan 3-0 in the UAE at the back end of 2015. Putting together clinical performances in conditions that will be closer to those they’ll face in India was a statement of intent.
What England lack in experience compared to other squads, they make up for with a talented array of match winners. Cricketers like Willey and Vince represent England’s new T20 generation, while Kent’s Sam Billings getting a Delhi Daredevils deal in the IPL spoke volumes of how perceptions are shifting.
Jos Buttler can hit a cricket ball halfway towards Tim Peake, up on the International Space Station; captain Eoin Morgan, all deft scoops and dexterity needs a strong tournament while Joe Root just needs to carrying on being Joe Root.
So, what’s the key to success?
Start off like a freight train. Openers Hales and Roy need to send the run rate into the stratosphere. Ten runs an over in the powerplays is no longer a freak occurrence.
Nail your yorkers. Chris Jordan has often been trusted with bowling at the death but whoever gets the job could well be the difference between bowing out at the Super 10 stage or pushing on and ultimately lifting that shiny silver trophy.
Adapt to conditions. England has to negotiate South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and a qualifier - which will be incredibly tough. We’ll first see them in action against the top-ranked team in the world, the West Indies, on Wednesday March 16 at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, where England also play South Africa on the Friday.
Focus then shifts to the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. There, England play defending champions Sri Lanka and whoever by then has qualified from Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong or Afghanistan. Ideally, they need a points comfort blanket to avoid a nervy conclusion that fans watch from behind the sofa.
Indian conditions are obviously a world away from a seaming track at Headingley and how quickly and intelligently Eoin Morgan’s squad copes in Mumbai and Delhi will dictate whether or not England’s presence is fleeting.
Excel with spin. There are twin aspects to this. England’s spinners may not be as accomplished as someone like India’s R. Ashwin but Moeen Ali rarely has a quiet game and Adil Rashid lit up the Big Bash League with his fizzing leggies. Both need to bring their A-plus game with spin so often the chokehold on a team’s drive for a punishing total.
Similarly, England’s batsmen must refuse to be bogged down and bamboozled by spin but work the gaps, run their socks off and keep momentum away from the opposition.
All in all, there’s every reason to be believe England can surprise the T20 doubters and there’s no better time or bigger stage on which to make us all proud.