RYAN SIDEBOTTOM is backing England to successfully defend the World Twenty20 title he helped them to win in the Caribbean two years ago.
The Yorkshire pace bowler insisted they can follow in the footsteps of the class of 2010, when England won their first global one-day trophy.
England begin their tournament tomorrow against minnows Afghanistan in Colombo.
Sidebottom sees no reason why they cannot go all the way and become the first nation to win back-to-back World Twenty20 crowns.
“I think they’ve got a big chance,” said Sidebottom, who was England’s joint-leading wicket-taker in 2010 along with Graeme Swann, with 10 victims at a cost of 16 runs apiece.
“The way they played against South Africa recently (when the countries drew their Twenty20 series 1-1 in England) convinces me they’ve got what it takes to win the competition.
“You look at that middle order – Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan – and it’s frightening.
“They’re all big-hitters, and that’s what you need in India where the wickets are flat.”
England, who beat Pakistan by 15 runs in their final warm-up game in Colombo yesterday, are not widely fancied to win the event.
Most bookmakers make them seventh favourites behind India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and Australia, but Twenty20 is a notorious leveller and Sidebottom believes they could be dark horses.
“Nobody gave us much of a chance two years ago,” he recalled. “But we showed that momentum can take you a long way in Twenty20.
“The England players are mostly young, which might be a downside, but it can also be a big advantage in another, because they won’t fear anyone.
“They’re all about the same age and still learning, and although they’re going to face a lot of spin bowling out there, which might be difficult, they’ve got all the right ingredients in terms of batting, bowling and fielding.”
As ever, a good start could be important – but not necessarily imperative. Two years ago, England qualified for the Super Eights without winning a game in the group stages.
They lost their opening match by eight wickets to West Indies before their second and final group game against Ireland ended in a no-result due to bad weather.
England progressed at Ireland’s expense due to a superior net run-rate before winning each of their three Super Eights fixtures against Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, which they followed with victories over Sri Lanka in the semi-final and Australia in the final.
“The key thing in Twenty20 cricket is to get on a roll,” added Sidebottom.
“We started slowly in 2010 but then, all of a sudden, we got into a great run of form and the confidence and self-belief ran through the side.
“Sometimes, in Twenty20, you can take it all too seriously and I honestly think that the best thing you can do is to make a conscious effort to try and relax.
“We showed the truth of that at Yorkshire this year with some magnificent performances in the format. We relaxed, had fun, gave it everything as a team and backed each other up and it took us to the Twenty20 final.”
Sidebottom, 34, who retired from international cricket in the autumn of 2010, would hardly let England down now if he was out there in action with Stuart Broad’s team. On the contrary, his performances at domestic Twenty20 level remain top-drawer; he took 11 wickets for Yorkshire in the format this summer at 16, while his strike-rate was a wicket every 13 balls.
Although his international Twenty20 days are behind him, Sidebottom is relishing a return to the global stage next month, when Yorkshire take part in the Twenty20 Champions League in South Africa.
The club won through to the qualifying phase of the competition by reaching the Twenty20 Cup final, and Sidebottom believes they can surprise a few people.
“Why not?” he said. “There will be some fantastic teams out there with plenty of top international players, but there will be no pressure on our shoulders to perform.
“It’s just a bonus, really, after everything we achieved in Twenty20 this summer.
“The way I look at it, nobody’s really expecting us to do anything and we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Yorkshire play two games in qualifying against Uva Next in Johannesburg on October 9 and Trinidad & Tobago at Centurion on October 10.
If they top their three-team group, Yorkshire will progress to the tournament proper to join the winners of the second qualifying group (Hampshire, Auckland Aces and Sialkot Stallions) plus the already confirmed participants: Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders, Highveld Lions, Mumbai Indians, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers and Titans.
The main event sees the 10 teams split into two groups of five, and Yorkshire would be placed in Group B with Chennai Super Kings, Highveld Lions, Mumbai Indians and Sydney Sixers.
The Sydney franchise includes Australia pace bowler Mitchell Starc, who was Yorkshire’s top performer in Twenty20 this year.
Yorkshire will have their second Twenty20 overseas player from last summer, however, the South African batsman David Miller, who comfortably topped their run-scoring charts with 390 at 48.
Miller will be available for Yorkshire’s first qualifying match, but not their second due to domestic commitments in South Africa with the Dolphins franchise, but would hopefully be available again in the tournament proper.
In another example of a crazy fixture list, the Champions League starts just two days after the World Twenty20 final, which means Yorkshire are sweating on Bairstow’s availability for the qualifying phase.
In addition, the latter stages of the Champions League clashes with a three-day training camp in Dubai for the England side ahead of their tour of India, which means Yorkshire would probably be without Bairstow and Joe Root for any semi-final and final.
Tim Bresnan has not been released by England for the Champions League.