England’s 2021 T20 World Cup campaign ended in disappointment, crashing out to New Zealand in the semi-final, from a strong position. Eoin Morgan will feel it’s a missed opportunity for his side who; having topped their group and having headed into the competition as the World No.1 ranked T20I team, anything less than bringing home the trophy was going to sting.
However, while England had to wait five years for a shot at redemption following Carlos Brathwaite’s Kolkata onslaught, they have less than 12 months before their next World Cup campaign. The 2022 tournament will take place in Australia, starting in mid-October, and will give Morgan’s men a second chance at becoming the first men’s side to simultaneously hold both the ODI World Cup and the T20 World Cup trophies.
But what do they need to do, in the next year, to make that happen?
Get More Bat First Experience
The importance of bowling first was more pronounced than usual in the 2021 World Cup. The most obvious reason for this is the dew factor, making it tougher for bowlers to grip the ball in the second innings, and bringing the ball onto the bat more easily. While this was clearly a factor, the idea that matches were all but finished as a contest once the coin had landed, is an exaggeration. Teams that batted first often batted poorly, misjudging par by either being overly aggressive and falling well short, or playing with ultimately counterproductive caution.
England were not immune to the patterns set by the tournament as a whole. While they were responsible for one of just seven bat-first wins in Super 12 night matches, Eoin Morgan opted to chase in every game match where he won the toss, recognising the advantage at play. That isn’t new. When Morgan wins the toss, he always chases, given that it is – on balance, most of the time – the best way to win a T20 match. Morgan hasn’t opted to bat first having won the toss in a T20 international since September 2016, 24 matches ago.
This is clearly a good approach in general if the aim is to win bilateral series, which 90% of the time is the challenge Morgan is faced with. However, England can’t afford to neglect the ultimate aim, that is winning trophies – and building experience batting first is key for that. Since the 2016 World T20, England have batted first in just 20 matches, an average of less than four innings a year. While the players involved will be gaining domestic experience on top of this, the role clarity which England often speak of depends not just on your place in the order, but on whether you’re setting or chasing. The effect of the toss is likely to be less in Australia than in the UAE, but it will still influence results – the next 12 months needs to see England actively seeking opportunities to set totals, so that should they find themselves batting first in another semi-final, they’re better equipped.
Bring Through New Talent
England’s squad was conspicuously on the older side; of the main squad, only two (Tymal Mills and Liam Livingstone) were under 30 years old. That is not in and of itself a bad thing, given that experience is as valuable in the shortest form of the game as it is in Test cricket, and plenty of sides (most notably Chennai Super Kings and Sydney Sixers) have had significant domestic success with ageing squads. The eventual winners of the World Cup, Australia, had a very similar age profile, as did runners-up New Zealand. However, what will perhaps concern England is that with the notable exception of Jofra Archer, they haven’t really brought new players through with any great deal of success. Of the 13 England players to appear in the 2016 World T20, nine were involved in the 2021 squad, and two more (Ben Stokes and Alex Hales) would have been involved if not for wildly differing off-field obstacles. Eoin Morgan may see the 2020 World Cup as a clear final outing for this generation of England white ball talent, and most likely for his own captaincy and career, but some ruthlessness wouldn’t go amiss.
Ahead of the World Cup, much of the talk surrounding England’s squad selection was the lack of a second “specialist” spinner, with Adil Rashid backed up by the increasingly underused Moeen Ali, and the part-time Liam Livingstone. It was particularly notable given the speculation surrounding the pitches which, well in advance of the first game, were expected to be generally helpful to spinners. Yet in the tournament itself, England did not lack for overs from their slower bowlers, with just under half of their overs coming from spin – slightly above the tournament average and right up there with India and Afghanistan whose sides were packed with quality spinners. Rashid, Moeen, and Livingstone went at a run-a-ball throughout the World Cup and averaged 13, a resounding success for what was reasonably seen as a weakness.
However, next year in Australia is likely to pose a rather different challenge. Rather than being played in a spin-friendly country, at only three venues ‘fresh’ from a month-long IPL stint, it’ll be played in comparatively early-season Australia, at a much wider range of grounds. While the larger playing areas could bring spin into the game in a different way, we’re likely to see a higher scoring tournament with a different balance between bat and ball to what we’ve just experienced. England’s qualified success in the UAE was in part a result of responding to the unique conditions in front of them; it’s far more important that in 12 months time, they are consistent with these ideas, rather than their personnel.
Manage Workloads, Cross Fingers
Injuries happen. To an extent, you can’t mitigate against players getting impact injuries like Ben Stokes’ broken finger sustained in the IPL, or freak accidents like Jofra Archer’s fish-tank disaster. Even muscle injuries, like Jason Roy’s dramatic calf tear against South Africa, It would be disingenuous to say that England’s World Cup campaign wasn’t hugely influenced by the absences of Archer, Stokes, and Roy, as well as Sam Curran and Tymal Mills, with all five very strong candidates to have played in the semi-final. England have the depth of resources – both in a general financial sense, and in the current white ball talent pool – to have expected a tournament win even with these injury losses, but heading into next year’s edition everything needs to be done to have as many of the first-choice playing XI on the plane as possible.