A method to England's all-round success
In the end, it was all so simple. The manner in which England secured their maiden global triumph was clinical and comprehensive - a rout to rival those that Australia have themselves inflicted on Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka in their consecutive 50-over World Cup victories. The Australians entered the final boasting 10 wins and a Super Over defeat in their last 11 Twenty20 outings, and yet the scale of England's victory was crushing, with 15% of their overs left unused.
It seems incredible to say it, given the ineptitude of England's history in limited-overs cricket, but this was no fluke, far from it. The parameters of the Twenty20 game may invite the sort of upsets that will rarely, if ever, be seen in the longer forms - as England themselves know from their Netherlands humiliation in 2009 - but the cream still finds a way to rise to the top, and England's triumph was just another result in keeping with the format's short but reliably uniform history.
From Adam Hollioake's Surrey in England's inaugural Twenty20 Cup in 2003, to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's epoch-changing Indians in 2007, to Shane Warne's Rajasthan in 2008 and the Brett Lee-inspired New South Wales in the 2009 Champions League, it's rare that a major tournament doesn't cough up a worthy victor. The wonder is that England have got their act together, so swiftly and so unequivocally, that not even the most churlish observers can quibble with the scale of their achievement.
Rightly, much of the credit has been attributed to England's hard-bitten coach, Andy Flower, a man whose own country, Zimbabwe, was too short in resources ever to challenge for global honours, but who instead took his own limited but assured ability and willed himself to become the No. 1 batsman in the world. His influence is unmistakeable in matters of fitness and dedication, not least in the field, where it's hard to recall a sharper all-round England outfit, but it's the tough selection calls he has made along the way that equipped the team with a killer instinct unmatched in their limited-overs history.
England won the World Twenty20 because they possessed not a single chink in their armour - mentally, physically, and in terms of ploughing through 20 overs without a moment's let-up with either bat or ball. The list of players who were auditioned for this tournament but cast aside is significantly longer than the 30-man preliminary squad that was announced towards the end of the tour of Bangladesh, because Flower cast his net as wide as it could stretch but refused to be swayed by sentiment at any stage of the process. Every decision was made, he insisted, "in the best interests of the England cricket team" - and that included the critical but undeniably controversial introduction of two South African-born openers in Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb.
Among the notables who weren't given a look in are two England captains - Andrew Strauss, who stood down of his own volition prior to the 2009 event, and Alastair Cook, whose calamitous leadership in a one-off contest in Centurion last November might well have marked his card in this format for evermore. But perhaps most significantly, there's Samit Patel, the hard-hitting, hard-living allrounder, whose innate talent and lust for a scrap should, by right, have guaranteed him the spinner's berth that was eventually filled by Michael Yardy. Flower, however, couldn't abide his waistline, and a cautionary tale was born.
Harsh verdicts have been delivered on members much closer to the inner sanctum than Patel, however. If Jonathan Trott's and Joe Denly's banishments were justified by their efforts as an opening partnership in Sharjah, then Matt Prior's axing in favour of Kieswetter was one of those judgement calls that can only be justified by hindsight. The suspicion among the hierarchy was that Prior's brand of big hitting was simply too predictable for the format - no matter how sweetly timed his cuts and cover drives, a ring of fielders on the off side would stifle his momentum... and by extension the team's.
Owais Shah was another whose qualities paled against some major doubts, in his case to do with his running between the wickets - which in turn spoke of a fallible temperament. And then there was the peculiar case of James Anderson, the attack leader in the eyes of most observers, and the likeliest bowler to deliver inspiration in any given spell. That prospect cut no ice with Flower, however, who viewed him as a bit of a "daisy" (some days he does...) and shelved his whimsical wiles in favour of Ryan Sidebottom's earthier qualities.
Despite his much-publicised injury problems, the spirit with which Sidebottom carried the England attack in his zenith year of 2007-08 had not been forgotten by the management, because as the vanquished Australians inadvertently demonstrated, the possession of a glut of X-Factor cricketers will count for little in this condensed format if there is one particular resource that can be targeted by the opposition. And so it was that, for all the fearsomeness of Dirk Nannes, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke had no option but to persevere with Shane Watson's medium pace in the final - three overs for 42 - because he had no viable alternative as a fifth bowler.
Conversely, when Yardy - the Richard Illingworth of nos jours - was spanked for 21 in a single over by David Hussey and Cameron White, Paul Collingwood knew he had a go-to option in Luke Wright, who has appeared to be something of a passenger for the past three years of England's limited-overs development, but who proved to be the embodiment of the "Plan B" that Collingwood had spoken of before the toss. His solitary over of the tournament consisted of five singles and the vital wicket of White. The wonder is that England had bothered to think so deeply about their game plan in the first place.
Like Graham Gooch's 1992 World Cup team, which was unique at the time for possessing a first-class centurion in every position from 1 to 11, England's fluidity of options was their trump card in this tournament. The emergence of Eoin Morgan took pressure off Kevin Pietersen as the kingpin of the middle order, and while Collingwood had a quiet tournament, it was gratifying to watch him relax into the elder statesman role that, like a latter-day Allan Border, he never once courted but eventually rather enjoyed.
At the moment of victory, there was only one man to whom the team gravitated, for Collingwood's grounded professionalism has transformed him into the most durable cricketer of his generation, and no one could be more deserving of all the accolades that will flood his way in the coming weeks. In his own unobtrusive manner, he's become England's heartbeat in all forms of the game, the unlikeliest heir imaginable to the last great English "talisman".
Remember Andrew Flintoff? Incredibly, no one this side of the St Lucia marina has given him a second thought in the past fortnight. Not only have England scaled unprecedented heights in his absence, they've done so with an ethos that makes you question whether he would ever have made the cut in the first place. "Who needs Fred when you've got Tim Bresnan?" is the message being projected by the Flower and Collingwood regime. It sounds absurd, but then, two weeks ago, so too was the prospect of England becoming world champions.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo