Sport writer Matt Grubb assesses England’s clean sweep of the T20 series in South Africa, as Eoin Morgan’s men build towards next year’s World Cup
A nine-wicket victory in the third and final match of the T20 series saw England secure an impressive 3-0 whitewash in South Africa. In a series designed to help both teams in their preparation for next year’s World Cup in India, England captain Eoin Morgan will be very pleased with the performances of his side, especially with the bat. Of course, there are still many questions that remain unanswered, least of all what England’s strongest team is. Nevertheless, Morgan and the selectors now know more about this England side and their capabilities than they did before arriving in South Africa.
Here are five things we have discovered from the three matches:
Malan is the Man
England’s white-ball squad is regularly described by pundits and players alike as the toughest team to break into across world sport. The fact that Joe Root was omitted from the T20 squad, despite being one of the finest talents England have ever produced and their leading run-scorer in the last T20 world cup, speaks volumes about what is an embarrassment of riches in the batting department. In the 50-overs format, Warwickshire’s Sam Hain has the highest List A batting average in the world amongst those to have faced 50 innings or more (59.78), yet this is still not enough to warrant a maiden international cap.
The competition for places means that on the rare occasions when an outsider does break into the team, the pressure on them to succeed is tremendous. After all, Dawid Malan’s place in the side did not feel at all secure going into the tour, despite his ranking as the world’s best T20 batsman. However, any doubts over the 33-year-old’s place in the team have been extinguished following two explosive match-winning knocks in the final two matches.
After a measured 55 guided England to victory in Paarl, on a surface that certainly favoured the bowlers, he then produced an unforgettable knock of 99 not out from just 47 deliveries at Newlands two days later. Not only did Malan comfortably top score for England in both matches, but he exhibited remarkable versatility across these contrasting innings. He silenced claims after the match in Paarl that he is a slow starter by teeing off right from the start in Cape Town with two fours and a six. Suddenly, it seems impossible to imagine an England T20 team sheet without Malan’s name on it.
Jonny Bairstow is another man who proved how indispensable he is to the England T20 side. Going into this series, the biggest question surrounded how England’s batting order would look, following confirmation from Morgan before the series that Jos Buttler would open the batting. This meant that the established opening pair of Bairstow and Jason Roy would be broken up, heaping pressure on both men.
In the opening match of the tour, Bairstow came into bat at the unfamiliar number four position, where he smashed an unbeaten 86 from 48 balls to steer England to their target of 180 with four balls remaining. While Roy has endured an uncharacteristically poor run of form at the top of the order in 2020, Bairstow showed not only his world-class talent in the shortest format of the game, but also his ability to bat wherever asked. His adaptability is a mark of true greatness, and England are very fortunate to have a modern icon of white-ball cricket in Bairstow.
Who Opens the Bowling?
While questions over Malan and Bairstow were comprehensively answered, one question that remains is exactly what England’s best bowling attack is with the new ball. In previous years David Willey had been a specialist in this department, but for reasons known only to the selectors, he has been shunned and exiled from the team. England have also relied on Moeen Ali to bowl at least one over in the opening powerplay for a number of years, but a loss of form has seen the all-rounder dropped from the side. This has caused Eoin Morgan to rethink his tactics, and this tour has not provided any clear solution.
Jofra Archer is proven to be a very capable new-ball bowler, but he would ideally have a couple of overs spare for later, as would Chris Jordan. Meanwhile, Sam Curran was entrusted with bowling the opening over in each match, and while he was the star bowler in the first win in Cape Town, he struggled in the final two matches when he went wicketless at a combined economy rate of just under 12. His brother, Tom, was also overly expensive, enduring a disappointing tour by his normal high standards. It will be interesting to see how Morgan and the selectors respond, especially with Mark Wood, who was unlucky not to feature in a single match, waiting in the wings.
Proteas Show Signs of Life
The build-up to the series was marred by conflict and crisis at the heart of Cricket South Africa and its governing body, a culmination of years of mismanagement that has ultimately caused the team to suffer on the pitch too. A 3-0 whitewash will undoubtedly be tough to take, especially having got into a good position in all three games.
However, they will also feel that they have shown enough quality not to count themselves out of the running in next year’s World Cup. For starters, they would surely have had a better chance of defending 191 had star bowler Kagiso Rabada not been ruled out with a groin injury, while the express pace of Anrich Nortje clearly caused troubles for England.
More importantly, the Proteas will be pleased with their batting performances throughout the series. Faf du Plessis reminded everyone of his quality with two classy half-centuries, while Rassie van der Dussen blew the England bowlers away in the final match with an unbeaten 74 from just 32 deliveries. Once they learn how to close out matches better in the next eleven months, there is every chance that South Africa can compete in India next year.
England Can Win from Anywhere
Perhaps the most incredible feature of this England team is their ability to win from almost any position. During the run chases in the first two matches, there were moments where even the most optimistic fans may have accepted defeat. And yet somehow, through the individual brilliance of Bairstow and Malan, and with support through the middle order from Morgan and Ben Stokes, England managed to get over the line.
It was reminiscent of their extraordinary fightback against Australia in September – when England won by two runs despite Australia being one wicket down and requiring just 39 runs off 38 balls – was no fluke. This unbreakable character has now been illustrated by both the bowlers and the batsmen, and it is perhaps this attribute that gives England such a good chance of T20 glory in India next year. As for the final match on Tuesday, chasing down a hefty 192 with nine wickets and 14 balls remaining was truly mesmerising.
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