A LOT TO PLAY FOR WITH WORLD T20 ON THE HORIZON
The clocks have changed, the evenings are longer and there is a wintry chill in the air. One crumb of comfort is that those long nights can soon be filled with cricket as England have landed in New Zealand for a T20 series to be followed by three Test matches.
It’s all change for England with Chris Silverwood appointed as head coach as the 50-over world champions concentrate of improving their five-day form and ready themselves for the World T20 in October 2020.
James Buttler takes a look at the five T20 series that gets underway on Friday and finds the best bets as the two sides that contested that unforgettable World Cup Final at Lord’s in June lock horns again over the sport’s shortest format.
EOIN MORGAN RIDES AGAIN
For a few weeks England’s World Cup lifting skipper mulled over his future. Would he go out of international cricket on the highest of highs, or did he have the hunger to try and add the World T20 to his CV as England’s most successful white ball skipper.
It was no surprise when the 33-year-old Irishman signed up for another two years. His leadership of the 50-over side was focussed, ruthless and he had the respect of every member of his squad. With the 50-over fixtures shelved for much of the run-up to the World T20, Morgan is now tasked with shaping a talented England side into one that can replicate their World T20 triumph in the Caribbean in 2010.
When Paul Collingwood lifted that WT20 trophy almost a decade ago he became the first England skipper to win a global trophy. Morgan almost repeated the feat. You remember THAT over. West Indies needing 19 to win. It was Carlos Brathwaite versus Ben Stokes, Four balls later, four sixes into the Kolkata sky.
Stokes then had that infamous night out in Bristol that could have ended other careers. But he’s made of stern stuff. He was pivotal to England lifting the World Cup and if there has been 11 Ben Stokes in England shirts during the Ashes the urn would have remained in England. He is one of a number of experienced England players to enjoy a well-earned rest during the five T20s in New Zealand, but expect the Durham all-rounder to have a huge say in the destination of the next World T20.
NEW ZEALND ARE TOO NICE FOR REVENGE?
England were deservedly 50-over world champions, but New Zealand quite literally did not lose that final. Level after the 100 overs and all that separated them after a tied super over was boundary count-back.
That defeat hurt Kiwis everywhere. They earned the respect of the cricketing world with the dignity they showed as runners up, but they will be strong on home soil, will want to settle the score and they have the firepower to cause England damage.
WHO ARE ENGLAND’S YOUNG GUNS?
The T20 leg of England’s tour might be missing Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes and more, but for England supporters it will be fascinating to see how some of the youngsters get on. Can they adapt to international cricket? Can they start to ink their name into the World T20 plans?
Sam Billings has been given the vice-captaincy for this leg of the trip and the opportunity to build on a stellar end of season in the County Championship. The Kent skipper has been a peripheral figure in England’s one-day team for some time. The 25-year-old has a great opportunity to stake a claim in all formats. He’s good enough, but can he deliver?
There are few more exciting young talents in the world than Somerset’s Tom Banton. His precocious talent saw him crash 549 T20 Blast runs for the Cidermen this summer. his bank balance is growing as fast as his reputation as The Hundred, Big Bash and many other global tournaments collect his signature.
Worcestershire Rapids seamer Pat Brown may only be 21 but he has been a huge part of his county’s success in the T20 Blast. He collected 17 wickets as the Rapids were beaten in a spirited defence of their 2018 title win, when Brown grabbed 31 scalps. He can only get better and is one to watch.
Lewis Gregory is another Somerset man pushing for international acclaim. He was selected in a couple of Ashes squads this summer but never made the jump into the side, but the white ball legs of this winter should see him get a few caps under his belt. A power hitting allrounder and quality bowler, the 27-year-old has a bright future.
Matt Parkinson has been pushing for full England selection for some time. He has been one of Lancashire’s white ball heroes as his leg-spin not only takes plenty of wickets but generally is very economical too. His 21 T20 Blast wickets this summer came at less than 8 runs per over. Adil Rashid is also touring but with the senior leggie still getting over a shoulder injury. 22-year-old Parkinson will get his opportunity.
Saqib Mahmood is another 22-year-old Lanky who bowls pace, is expert at the death and has been earmarked for the step up for some time. Like all the youngsters on this trip, he has a lot still to learn, but has the ingredients to step up in both the white and red ball international game.
ENGLAND’S FULL T20 SQUAD
Eoin Morgan (capt), Sam Billings (VCapt), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Lewis Gregory, Chris Jordan, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson, Adil Rashid and James Vince.
THE BATTING MARKETS
With Kane Williamson and Joe Root both rested for this series, we are looking at the power hitters to land the batting money. Root and Williamson are usually the solid layer of glue that the six-hitters play around.
Jonny Bairstow is the best batsman in the England team and as an opener will have more balls available to him than the rest, He should also play all five matches and therefore should be the full stakes play to be England’s leading run-scorer.
When looking for a longer price there are a number of candidates. Tom Banton appeals and doesn’t look the kind of player to be fazed by the step up.
James Vince has failed to hold his place down in any of England’s sides, but his talent has never been in doubt. He may find it easier to show his worth overseas and away from the tabloid style analysis.
Morgan, Denly and Billings are also worthy of note, but Dawid Malan would be my choice to come good from further down the market. He didn’t let England down in the Test arena and could be considered unlucky to have not played more. If he finds form, he is explosive and at 10/1 with SkyBet is outrageously big.
For New Zealand, I’m torn between two players. Colin Munro showed his destructive power when he clubbed an unbeaten 107 from 57 balls when a New Zealand XI beat the tourists by eight wickets. The left-hander is in great form and takes my sensible full stakes bet, but only just from opener Martin Guptill, who is equally prone to bursts of scintillating hitting.
Adil Rashid is England’s most experienced operator with the ball and starts as favourite in the market to take most wickets for his country. But this is one bet where picking the right outsider could yield great rewards. I’m splitting my stake between the two Lancastrians, Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood, but Sam Curran and Lewis Gregory also provide great appeal at healthy prices.
For the Kiwis I am not looking beyond stand-in captain Tim Southee. With Trent Boult missing the first three matches, Southee will need to step up and deliver.
CORRECT SERIES SCORE
It may have been a different white ball format, but we saw in the World Cup how close these sides are. It will take a drop catch here and a moment of brilliance there to separate them. A lot will also depend on how the youngsters get on as many take their first steps into a full international career.
It is hard to suggest anything other than exciting cricket with the series going down to the wire and 3-2 either way would be my chosen result. New Zealand start the series as slight favourites and that makes England the value.