West Indies v England, 1st T20, Barbados March 10, 2014

England miss the muscle

The opening T20 did not present new problems for England, just old ones rehashed at other venue. Misjudging selection can be fixed, but the batting needs to find a way of combating spin in the shortest format

Out-thought, out-played and out-gunned, England endured a chastening start to the T20 series against West Indies in Barbados.

It was not just that England were well beaten that will disturb them. It was that they were well beaten largely due to their enduring struggles against spin bowling. Bearing in mind that they will be playing the World T20 on Bangladesh pitches where spin is expected to dominate, then it is hard to be optimistic about their chances.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that this match was decided before it even began. But not much of an exaggeration. While West Indies' three spinners bowled 10 overs and claimed 6 for 46, England selected four fast-medium bowlers who bowled their 12 overs for 128 without taking a wicket. They picked only one spinner and he was, by some distance, their best bowler. They simply misread the pitch.

But even if England had stacked their side with spinners, even if they had bowlers to compare to the quality of Sunil Narine, they would still have to have batted far better to have given themselves any chance of victory.

As it was, they batted like schoolboys. While Ben Stokes, head in the air and swinging like a punch-drunk boxer, might be forgiven on the grounds of inexperience, Luke Wright, playing his 100th international and becoming the second England player (after Stuart Broad) to reach 50 T20I caps, has no such excuse. He has now failed to reach double-figures in his last eight international innings and, on this tour, his scores have been 1, 0 and 0. That is not a sustainable record for a specialist No. 3 batsman. While Wright might have a future on quicker surfaces in Australia, it is hard to see how he will flourish in Bangladesh.

In the three ODIs in Antigua, England were largely able to see-off the spinners. They were able to accept that Narine would deliver his overs frugally and simply play him out and plunder the weaker bowlers. But here, in the shorter format, they were further burdened by the presence of the top-spin of Samuel Badree and knew they could not afford to simply accumulate for eight overs. Had Narine been able to complete his allocation of overs - he was obliged to leave the pitch after sustaining an injury in the field - then the margin might well have been even larger.

While the likes of Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle were able to thrash fairly decent deliveries over the boundary, England are more reliant on bowler error to match such strokes. They have come to a gunfight armed with a catapult

It is far from the first time that England teams have looked clueless against spin bowling. Perhaps due to the largely one-dimensional character of the pitches that dominate in county cricket, or perhaps due to the inflexible attitude that endures towards 'mystery' spin in the UK, young England players react to exposure to bowlers such as Narine with something approaching horror. It has been a long-standing weakness in the English system.

There have been improvements in recent years. But there are few members of the Test squad that triumphed in India in this limited-overs squad, so it appears that, each generation, England have to return to square-one in their struggle against spin. In the longer term, they would be well served allowing more turning pitches in the County Championship and encouraging more unorthodox bowlers to develop their art. At present, the cleft foot of the puritanical action-police continues to hold England back in this regard.

England did not bowl badly. While West Indies recorded their highest T20I score at the venue - only Sri Lanka and Australia have scored more here - it was more of a result of a true pitch almost perfect for this form of the game and a batting line-up blessed with power than it was poor bowling. England simply lacked the slow-bowling options that might have made life more difficult.

Indeed, had James Tredwell accepted a chance - a chance somewhat harshly described by Broad as "a dolly" - offered by Marlon Samuels when he had 43, West Indies might have restricted to something around 150. As it was, Samuels thrashed the final five deliveries in the same Jade Dernbach over to the boundary and West Indies were all but out of reach.

England have little such fire-power in their own batting. While the middle-order of Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ravi Bopara, must be considered dangerous, their line-up does not compare to the power present in the West Indies' top seven. While the likes of Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle were able to thrash fairly decent deliveries over the boundary, England are more reliant on bowler error to match such strokes. They have come to a gunfight armed with a catapult and may well have missed a trick by overlooking powerful T20 batsmen such as Darren Stevens and Steven Crook, whose skiddy pace might also have proved especially effective in Bangladesh.

There was even worse news for England at the end of the game. Broad announced that he will not play the final two T20s in order to rest a knee problem that might be described as chronic, while it emerged that Morgan's knee injury is continuing to bother him. The England camp deny it, but both must be considered doubts for the World T20 and Broad, who is having a "fourth or fifth" injection on his troublesome knee, is clearly in need of some time off. Whichever way you look at it, England are facing an uphill struggle in Bangladesh.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • raul on March 10, 2014, 22:13 GMT

    Eng XI for T20 World cup: Lumb , Moeen Ali, Morgan, Bopara, Buttler, Patel, Stoakes, Broad,Wright, Tredwell and Parry.

  • Ali on March 10, 2014, 20:09 GMT

    so "muscle' is the new code name for KP ?

  • Partish on March 10, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    George - a good article, but guess what ECB has shot itself in the foot. They decided to send their best batsman into oblivion. Kevin Pietersen was the person Eng needed in their side to combat spin. He could easily bat in the top 3 and literally take the game away from the opposition.Cant see the rest of the batting line up doing much damage.

    Also since the T20 WC is in Bangladesh - why are players like Samit Patel not getting a chance? He is one candidate who would fit in nicely and provide some lower order batting to the side as well.

    Having 4 medium fast option in WI and Ban is a JOKE. And Eng need to get rid of Jade Dernbach if they are to progress anywhere as a team. He is just not good enough.

  • Harry on March 10, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    Eng messed up KP who should be opening the innings or come in at No. 3. Flower should have gone out along with Strauss and Cook is the worst Test captain ever. Ian Bell would have made a fine captain and KP would still be in the team if Prior and couple of others are ejected out. If KP does not conform manage him thats what captains and coaches do. I am sure this problem exists in other teams.

    Eng needs to stop fussing around and accept you can flex your arm to spin like rest of the world. They are not the "keepers" of cricket anymore but need to compete. Also send Eng players to IPL, BBL etc to get T20 exposure. They will do well not just in T20s but in ODIs too.

  • aniket on March 10, 2014, 17:51 GMT

    @sigismund you just can't say every T20 game a fluke in which any team can win. If so then chennai superkings would not be the most successful team in T20 till. It is because they players assigned for each role. Mike hussey for partnership till 10 over with 7-8 runs per over with no. 1,2 batsmen and after that go bersek in last 7 over with bravo, dhoni,raina,albie the thing is they have created a formula to win. Csk is most settled T20 squad i ever saw.

  • Justin on March 10, 2014, 16:50 GMT

    I would suggest that Eng are just out of form at the moment rather than say that they lack muscle. There are players littered through the order that are capable of hitting a long ball - wright is an example of one them as is Morgan. They just need to fire. Its a reasonable team and lets not forget that in T20 - any team can win on the day, no matter how big the difference between them. Bet they miss KP though, may have been disruptive in the locker room but he sure was a rock in the top order.

  • Isaac on March 10, 2014, 13:38 GMT

    England are so clearly one of the weakest T20 teams around, I can't see why anyone would think that they should be hoping to win - whether here or in Bangladesh. We don't have any spinners, so how are we meant to pick four? We don't have any sloggers either, so we should stop dreaming and play our decent batsmen up the order i.e. Ravi. Won't be enough to win anything but at least we'll be playing cricket. The fact that every team thinks they can be world champions in a few weeks' time, regardless of the evidence, shows what a pointless game T20 is.

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2014, 13:27 GMT

    The English issue with spin starts with 9 year olds on Saturday morning being "corrected" by bowling coaches. A bowler with any noticeable kink in their action - even ones likely to be under 15 degrees is either told to straighten up - or advised to not bowl.

    The age group captains don't put these guys on to bowl, they rarely even bowl in the nets. I've seen 3 or 4 in the last 5 years alone at my local club who may have developed their own unique style of spin..it was hammered out of them in no uncertain terms by worried coaches.

    Umpires it league level (Birmingham league in my case) call "No ball" for even the slightest twitch at the elbow, and opposition captains complain the minute they see a flexed arm - and I've NEVER seen their complaint rejected.

    Our bowlers will never develop extreme spin and our batters at all age groups never face it. Why? Because despite what the ICC and ECB says it is sadly still considered cheating at club and grass roots level in the UK.

  • j on March 10, 2014, 12:30 GMT

    we have to remember that being able to smash 2nd tier county bowling around in England on a cold spring evening is different (not necessarily easier) than the challenge our guys will face in the world cup. I do not see how someone with little or no experience in the subcontinent is going to succeed. Samit Patel? am sure he is worth a try. KP would make a difference but that ship has sailed f coure. It is O to tweak the batting lineup and bowling line up of course but to have a completely different set of players makes no sense. you need to have some guys who have played for ngland for years in various formats and been successful in all conditions

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    What do you expect if you discard Pietersen and persist in picking Dernbach, the Martin Demichelis of modern cricket?

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