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Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 28, 2014
England will go into their final two World T20 group games with a sense that they control their destiny, riding on the adrenalin of an exhilaratingly barmy gazumping of Sri Lanka. After Kate Bush's announcement that she will be performing live again, it was the most unexpected comeback of the last seven days.
The victory, built around Alex Hales' maiden T20 hundred - the first by an England player in the format - confirmed T20's capacity to startle whilst also reinforcing the view that batting second in the evening games at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury confers a distinct advantage. "Dew factor" is a buzz-phrase at the venue, despite the groundstaff now using a special spray shipped in from Dubai to try and minimise its effect.
England will play their third evening match on Saturday, against a South Africa side whose three outings so far have all been in the afternoon. Stuart Broad, England's captain, was buoyant after his batsmen kept alive hopes of reaching the semi-finals and suggested the team's experiences in two dramatic games so far would give them an edge under the floodlights.
"The confidence and belief we will get from that going into our final two group games is going to be huge," Broad said. "It's in our hands a little bit. We have got the advantage of having a few games under the lights here. Conditions are extremely different from anything we've had before. South Africa haven't played under the lights yet and we can use our experience to our advantage.
"We're in a decent position. Our batting is firing, we need to up the standard of our fielding, but I thought we bowled really well for the first ten overs of the match against Sri Lanka."
Their catching was another matter entirely, apart from one stupendous effort by Michael Lumb off Mahela Jayawardene's leading edge. That was ruled not out by the TV umpire (the ICC on Friday released a previously unseen angle used to make the decision) and four glaring drops, wet ball or otherwise, ensued. Broad felt that "Mother Cricket" had not been on England's side over the winter but, partly due to the result and partly due to his punishment for previously expressing views on umpiring decisions, was able to smile sweetly on this occasion.
Broad will have to make another deposit with the ICC, however, after being fined for England's slow over rate - they were ruled to be two short against Sri Lanka. Alongside numerous ball changes, the close nature of most games in Group 1 so far has led to frequent delays. South Africa will be without their captain, Faf du Plessis, for twice infringing and Broad will also risk a one-match suspension if proceedings drag again.
England's confidence, which looked so fragile midway through their last game, has been reinflated and although they remain outsiders, the prefix "dangerous" will now be in circulation. Hales' outrageous display has underwritten that, his record partnership with Eoin Morgan proving that individual feats can transcend a flawed team display.
The sense of a weight having been lifted was evident at optional training, where Ashley Giles, Mushtaq Ahmed and David Saker conducted an oldsters net session with Paul Collingwood at the crease, as the England players present, including Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali, took part in a warm-up.
"It was a must win-game," Broad said. "If we had lost against Sri Lanka we were pretty much out of the World Cup. With that sort of pressure, it's exciting to see players come through. I have seen Alex do it on numerous occasions but obviously not under the intense scrutiny of the World Cup in a must-win game. We've got young guys coming through and performing at this level with experienced guys as well, and that's a good place to be as a team.
"We have got two group games left and we're very confident we can do well in those. We know what these tournaments are like, if you can get on a run, if you can get a few guys going you can win these tournaments and it's not out of our grasp."
Hales was ranked the No. 1 T20 batsman in the world a few weeks ago, though that didn't stop him being referred to as an "unknown English player" by one Indian newspaper when he entered the IPL auction. Hales went unsold after his contractual agreement with Nottinghamshire meant his services came at the highest base price. It seems his county got their valuation right after all.
"He's a great striker of the ball, his levers really help with that," Broad said, referring to Hales' tall frame and long arms, rather than another technological innovation. "He took amazing responsibility as well, he knew when he wanted to target a certain bowler and he finished the game early. We always talk about having in batters at the end, you can see such a difference in T20 cricket and that's something we can take into the next two games."
Dropped from Nottinghamshire's Championship team last year, Hales now finds himself ranked alongside Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Suresh Raina and Jayawardene as the batsmen to have scored World T20 hundreds. He may be catnip for franchise leagues around the world but Broad suggested his county team-mate had unfinished business with first-class cricket.
"We know the red-ball game is much different to the white ball game but he is a fantastic prospect in that format as well," Broad said. "He had a tough year, but he's 25, everyone has tough years from time to time and it will make him stronger for that.
"He's very focused on this T20 stuff at the moment but he's very determined to put his wrongs right from last summer and make an impact for Notts because he feels he didn't give Notts full value for money last year and he really wants to improve his game in the four-day stuff. But if he keeps playing like that in the T20 stuff for England I don't mind too much."
In view of Hales' cool striking, Broad's claim that the England bench had experienced "more excitement than nerves" in the closing moments against Sri Lanka carried greater credibility. For all his six-hitting, one exquisitely timed clip for four against Lasith Malinga with five overs of the chase to go confirmed the sense that Hales was in control. With Malinga tamed, England must now attempt to do the same against Dale Steyn and the slippery legspin of Imran Tahir. Mother Cricket has not abandoned them yet.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala