England’s World T20 side already shaping up nicely

WITH the T20 World Cup in Australia eight months away, England are in a good place on the evidence of the three-match series just ended in South Africa.

Yorkshire and England T20 specialist Dawid Malan

The 2-1 victory for Eoin Morgan and his team was essentially by-the-by; what was important was that they were challenged in three close games and that they set their blueprint for the tournament Down Under.

It is clear, in the first instance, that Morgan is in the minority when it comes to one of the biggest issues surrounding the side: where should Jos Buttler bat?

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In most people’s eyes, the Lancashire man is best served as a finisher lower down the order, a role that he performs so well in 50-over cricket.

To Morgan’s mind, he is best suited as an opening batsman in T20 on the grounds that, as one of the world’s most destructive strokeplayers, it makes sense to give him as many balls as possible to wreak his destruction.

“I think Jos has as much talent as someone like AB de Villiers,” said Morgan. “When he delivers, we win games of cricket.”

Although hard to refute Morgan’s logic, or to question full-stop the rationale of a man who led England to 50-over glory last summer, the strategy overlooks not only Buttler’s skills as a finisher but also that England are top-heavy with destructive openers.

Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have established a partnership in 50-over cricket that speaks for itself and transfers seamlessly to T20, while Tom Banton and Alex Hales (remember him?) are other options.

At present, Roy is opening with Buttler and Bairstow is batting at No 3, and if that smacks of merely moving around the embarrassment of riches, it perhaps overlooks the potential for improvement which Morgan insists is created by Buttler’s elevation.

What can be said with something approaching certainty as England now look forward to six T20 internationals this summer (two of them at Emerald Headingley against Australia and Pakistan) is that only one batting slot is up for grabs.

Buttler, Roy, Bairstow, Morgan and Ben Stokes are inked in wherever they are used in a thrilling top-six. The identity of the sixth man, however, is not so clear.

In terms of numbers, it should be Yorkshire’s new signing Dawid Malan, who has scored five fifties and one hundred in his 10 T20 international appearances and averages 52.11 with a strike-rate of 153.77. That is a better average and strike-rate than any of his colleagues – albeit from a smaller sample size.

That sample size is still large enough, however, to make Malan’s omission from the first two games in South Africa in favour of Joe Denly (average 9.60, strike-rate 96.96) a mystifying decision by Morgan, who, coincidentally or otherwise, criticised Malan for failing to run a bye off the final ball of an innings in New Zealand recently amid suggestions that Malan was protecting his average.

Morgan is a brilliant captain, leader and tactician but one suspects that if a player crosses him he does so at his peril – one reason why Hales is highly unlikely to wear an England shirt again on Morgan’s watch after the breakdown in trust between Hales and England after last year’s drugs ban.

Malan only played in the deciding match in Centurion because Denly was ill and, in scoring only 11 runs in a rare failure, did not buttress his case. He is clearly not in Morgan’s preferred World Cup team.

The versatile Banton could yet be accommodated in the middle order and is perhaps the likeliest to break into the XI, while Test captain Joe Root is another candidate.

Although Root admits that he is probably no longer in England’s best T20 side, most would rather have him in ahead of Denly, and there is an argument for having someone of Root’s classical abilities amid the superfluity of electrifying hitters; Kane Williamson performs a similar role for New Zealand, of course.

Bowling-wise, there is a bit more scope for tinkering and tweaking.

The name of Chris Jordan is set in stone on the pace bowling front, as are those of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in terms of spin bowling.

After that, take your pick from the likes of Tom Curran, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Pat Brown, Saqib Mahmood, and so on.

Even David Willey, who lost his place to Archer for the 50-over World Cup, cannot be discounted; England have plenty of variety/alternatives.

With only those six T20 internationals to come this summer, one would not expect too much to change between now and October.

That said, performances in the T20 Blast and The Hundred (vomits into nearest bucket) could yet be significant as England finalise the team they hope can make them double white-ball world champions.