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September 26, 2012
England will face another examination against spin in their first World Twenty20 Super Eights tie against West Indies in Pallakele on Thursday. Destroyed by India's Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla at the group stage, they must now combat West Indies' Sunil Narine and a potential unknown accomplice, Samuel Badree.
Narine is West Indies' "trump card" according to their captain, Darren Sammy, but perhaps it is possible to exaggerate the likely extent of the ordeal after England's batting horrors against India. The most danger to England is more likely to emanate from the usual place: West Indies' long list of destructive batsmen.
Narine had a bowling average of 199 in England last summer in all competitions - his only wicket came when he dismissed Jonathan Trott in an ODI at the Rose Bowl and Trott is not even here. After his success in the IPL, England played Narine rather well. If he is to prove a trump card, it will have needed a change of suit since the sides last met.
As for Badree, he is a 31-year-old legspinner from Trinidad whose international exposure amounts to two T20I matches against New Zealand in the United States. He claimed Tim Southee as his only wicket and is the only international player who can fairly claim to be bigger in Florida than the rest of the cricketing world. There again, he is an unknown quantity and, in England's current state, that is a good thing to be.
It is not that the Pallakele pitch is expected to favour the spinners, not this early in the tournament anyway, just that West Indies have unsurprisingly taken a view. It was hard not to after the way England capitulated to India, bowled out for 80, their lowest Twenty20 score.
But even if you add in the offspin of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, who are both most notable for the expenditure of a minimal number of calories in delivery, England will be telling themselves that their fallibility against spin is in danger of being overplayed.
England's T20I captain, Stuart Broad, is doing his best to shrug it off. "We are ready for that," he said. "It is not as if we have found out yesterday that people are going to bowl spin at us. Coming to Sri Lanka, we sort of knew that because those are the conditions we will face. It is important as individuals we try to counteract it."
Broad refuses to accept that England have technical issues against spin bowling. Even if he harbours doubts, it is far too late to do much about it now. The only option is to try to restore self-belief and trust that England somehow brazen it through.
"The challenge is all mental," he claimed. "It is all about getting yourself back into a positive frame of mind and reminding the guys in the team that they are good players. They have performed well to get into this England team and we have match-winners in this side.
"We just talked about our strengths. Learn from the mistakes you make but don't dwell on them. We have players who have played spin well. We have talked about how we've done that."
But Sammy looked particularly perky as he presented Narine as a potential matchwinner. "We will definitely look to bowl spin against them," he said. "I think everyone who comes on to bowl has a big part to play but Sunil is our trump card. He has done well for us in international matches and hopefully he'll have a big impact on the English batting line-up.
"England are the defending world champions. I don't think they will allow the last game India to play on their minds. We have our plans and just have to go out and execute them."
Sammy excused Narine's poor show in England on the grounds of miserable weather, which did not make the pitches conducive to spin and pointed out, accurately enough, that England's senior spin bowler, Graeme Swann, also survived on meagre returns.
Broad is not the first person to extol the attractions of Pallakele. Contrast that with Sri Lanka's unveiling of the jerry-built, and unfinished, Dambulla Stadium to unsuspecting England tourists about a decade ago and it is a huge stride forward.
"It's my first time to the ground, it looks fantastic," Broad said. "It reminds me a bit of Caribbean grounds actually."
Another reason, perhaps, why Sammy was feeling so content.
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