West Indies v England, 2nd T20, Barbados March 12, 2014

England pay for Powerplay flops

Such are England's problems in utilising the first six overs of their batting innings that matches are often decided in that period and the biggest hole they have is at No. 3

Dobell: England top order continues to fail

It remains the subject of some debate just what Ashley Giles scribbles into his notebook as his watches his England side in action.

You might think, at first glance, that Giles is jotting down ideas and concerns to share with the team at a later date. But so prolific is Giles, that some suggest he is transcribing the works of Tolkien. Others that he is writing a novel. For all the improvement - or lack of it - in England's T20 performances in recent times, he might simply have been drawing pictures of cows.

But if Giles has been focussing on the Powerplay in the England innings of late, he may have pages filled with the words 'the horror, the horror.'

England's Powerplay batting continues to let them down. It is not so much that they fail to take advantage of the run-scoring opportunities offered in the first six overs, it is that they repeatedly lose wickets, thereby undermining the remainder of the innings. Rather often, the result is decided within the first 20 minutes of the match.

Certainly that was the case here. By limping to 30 for 3 from the first six overs - West Indies, by contrast, were 58 for 1 - they put themselves at a disadvantage from which they never recovered. Not the excellent batting of Jos Buttler, the clever bowling of Ravi Bopara - who equalled the most economical performance for England in T20Is - or the fact that some of West Indies' fielding was wretched could help them.

This defeat means England have lost not just this series, but their last five T20I matches. It means they go into the World T20 with their confidence low and their plans seemingly in tatters. After all, with just one game to go before they depart for Bangladesh, they called in two players for debuts, tried a new No. 3, utilised a stand-in captain and used a bowler who had delivered one over in his last five T20Is. To end a two-year cycle blooding new players and attempting new tactics suggests all plans to that point have come to nothing. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that England are in chaos.

It is no coincidence that, in those last five defeats, England have lost three wickets in the first six overs on four occasions and two on the other one. Nor is it any coincidence that they last time they won a T20 match, against Australia at Chester-le-Street, they made it through the first six overs without losing a wicket. Taking advantage of those six overs and retaining wickets is not an easy task, but the consistency with which England are getting it wrong suggests there is something fundamentally wrong with the way they are doing things.

England neither score fast or retain wickets. They managed only two boundaries - both fours - in those first six overs while losing three wickets, while West Indies hit six sixes and three fours.

It is, then, worth reflecting on the make-up of the top three. Alex Hales, who was recently rated the No. 1 T20 batsman in the world, is surely worth perseverance, while Michael Lumb, who has only passed 22 once in seven innings, might be living on borrowed time. Certainly that ODI century in Antigua is starting to feel like a long time ago.

But the obvious difference comes at No. 3. When England won the World T20, they had Kevin Pietersen at No. 3. Which begs the question, are England happier losing without Pietersen than they would be winning with him? To deny that his absence here is hurting England would be absurd. The management of the ECB have, by failing to find a solution to the problems that Pietersen presents, put their side at a disadvantage.

There were other puzzling decisions in this match. Having called Ian Bell into the squad, it was to be expected that he might be given a chance to find some form in this format before Bangladesh; it is three years since his last T20 game at any level, after all.

But Bell was left out with Eoin Morgan, the captain, explaining that they felt he "needed to get some balls under his belt." If that was so, though, it made the decision of England to rest rather than train on Monday somewhat surprising.

Morgan was more culpable than most in this game. With two wickets down after 21 balls, he should have been aware of the need to accumulate at low-risk for several overs. Instead he attempted a slog-sweep against the wind and with the man back on the fence. It was not a clever piece of cricket.

There will be those who blame England's death bowling for this defeat, but that would be unfair. Jade Dernbach, for the second game in succession, bowled pretty well and without fortune, while Tim Bresnan, who saw his last three legitimate deliveries slammed for 16 runs, was the victim more of fine batting than he was poor bowling. The margins for bowlers are so small and England's required more support from their batsmen if they were to win this.

"We lost the game with the bat," Morgan admitted afterwards. "From the moment we went to 30 for 3 we were on the back foot. We've enough power in our side, we're just failing at the start of the innings. It's a question of finding a balance between being positive and not losing wickets."

There were glimmers of light in this game. Buttler, in recording his highest T20I score to date, underlined his power, his skill and his ingenuity, while Bopara continues to develop into England's most reliable limited-overs bowler. James Tredwell, too, enjoyed just about the best of a fascinating battle with Chris Gayle. At one stage, Bopara and Tredwell conceded just eight in three overs to drag their side back into the game.

But if they are honest, England might consider themselves somewhat flattered by the margin of defeat. Hales, for example, was reprieved when he should have been given out lbw on 10 and missed in the field on both 15 and 29, while Buttler was missed on 45. West Indies were also without their best bowler, Sunil Narine.

And all the while Giles was scribbling away in that notebook. If the run of defeats continues, it might turn out that he was updating his CV.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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