TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
FOR a large part of England’s World T20 match against SA in Mumbai on March 18, the boys in the neon pink shirts didn’t look like winning anything except an early trip home. But that was five games ago and plenty has changed.
Now, as finalists, England have one hand on the trophy and all SA’s players have a hand on are their television remotes as they watch the action unfold from the cold comfort of their couches.
When SA totalled 229/4, it seemed England – who had already lost to West Indies – would be among the teams facing a first-round exit. Instead, Joe Root’s 83 led them to victory by two wickets.
Then they reeled off wins against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka before, in the semi-finals, inflicting New Zealand’s first defeat of the tournament.
What did England do differently from SA to enable them to turn around their campaign after an early setback?
Most importantly, they responded positively to that setback. Their batting against SA was never without the belief that they could haul in the fifth biggest target in the 540 T20 internationals played at that point.
Then there was SA’s bowling in that match …
“I have never seen such a poor bowling performance,” former fast bowler and SA selector Hugh Page said.
“I understand that guys are trying to bowl different variations in terms of pace and so on and to disguise the slower ball.
“But if you don’t bowl a line that’s all a waste of time. The guys couldn’t bowl a line!
“At that level, I understand that batsmen are going to hit you, depending on your length, to different parts of the ground. But if you’re bowling a line at least they can only hit you in certain directions.
“When you’re bowling down leg and wide outside off batsmen can use all 360 degrees of the park. They can hit it wherever they like.
“If you don’t bowl properly you can’t expect to win.”
England have bowled properly, particularly as a unit. You won’t find any of their bowlers among the top performers in terms of average, economy rate, strike rate or wickets taken. But they have a clear plan of what they want to do and that plan has proved unbeatable since their stumble against the Windies.
Too often SA’s bowlers had their heads stuck in sorting out individual issues and were in no condition to operate as a team within the team.
A specific difference between the attacks is that England had a left-arm fast bowler in David Willey. There was no left-arm quick in SA’s squad.
On the batting side of the divide, Root’s name is up in lights on some of the tournament’s stat scorecards. But the key for England is that they have also been able to depend on others – Joss Butler, Jason Roy and even Moeen all played important innings.
Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers combined to score four half-centuries for SA. England had one fewer thanks to the efforts of Root, Roy and Buttler.
Hard as it may be to believe, SA averaged one more run than England in their innings. But whereas Root, Roy and Buttler each topped 150 runs, only De Kock did so for SA.
Even accounting for the fact that England had one more innings than SA – Root and Roy have since passed 180 runs – that’s a telling fact. It means England’s batsmen, like their bowlers, are playing as a team.
England have kept alive the belief they showed against SA to great effect, and in every discipline.
And now they’re sitting pretty in pink.