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Match Analysis

Death-bowling problems rear their head again to take shine off England win

"Our execution was nowhere near as good as we would like," Eoin Morgan admits

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Akeal Hosein and Romario Shepherd gave England a scare  •  AFP via Getty Images

Akeal Hosein and Romario Shepherd gave England a scare  •  AFP via Getty Images

Two months after England lost an unlosable game against New Zealand in their T20 World Cup semi-final, they almost lost another. As the wheels came off in the final stages of their eventual one-run win against West Indies in the second T20I in Barbados on Sunday evening, there was a simple conclusion to be drawn: England have a death-bowling problem.
Back in November, New Zealand needed 57 to win off the final four overs in Abu Dhabi, an equation that no batting team had solved in T20 international history. They hauled it down with an over to spare, with Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes put to the sword by Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell.
In Bridgetown, West Indies left themselves 61 off 18 balls with two wickets in hand after a mid-innings collapse, a tally which has been achieved only once in the final three overs of a T20 international and never in a run chase. They fell two runs short and could justifiably feel aggrieved by an umpiring decision: Akeal Hosein - who struck 44 not out off 16 balls, a record for a No. 10 batter - was aghast to see a full, wide ball from Saqib Mahmood deemed to have passed him inside the tramlines.
The 59 runs that came from the final three overs were the joint-most that England have conceded in that phase, made by India - and primarily Yuvraj Singh - in Durban nearly 15 years ago. Mahmood seemed to suffer the same stage fright that afflicted Stuart Broad on that night as he missed yorker after yorker and was slugged over the short leg-side boundary.
Jordan's over, the 18th, was eerily reminiscent of the 17th in the semi-final - not least because it cost the same number of runs, 23. With one boundary significantly shorter than the other, he planned accordingly and banged the ball into the pitch on a good length; Hosein (over cover) and Romario Shepherd (twice, over midwicket) responded by carting him for sixes over the bigger boundary.
For Mahmood, the discrepancy in boundary sizes again informed his plan to bowl full and wide outside Hosein's off stump. But after his first ball was given as a wide and his second narrowly escaped the same fate, he lost his nerve: Hosein hit consecutive boundaries either side of long-on, failed to reach another wide, then slammed three sixes to leave West Indies two runs short of their target.
"Every team in the world is trying to get better at it," Eoin Morgan, England's captain said. "It is the hardest job in T20 cricket, death-bowling. Conditions did get a little bit better towards the end - the ball did skid on as opposed to our innings in the first innings - but ultimately, we need to find better ways of going about it. Our execution was nowhere near as good as we would like."
The inevitable question was asked: why aren't England trying to bowl yorkers? "We are, we're just getting it wrong," Morgan conceded. "The majority of our plan today was to bowl yorkers, use the long side, and we missed. That's being brutally honest. The guys are always honest with executing in order to try and move on [and to] identify areas that we can get better - this is definitely one of them.
"They're games that you want to play in. Looking back at the build into the [2021] World Cup, we didn't play in many tight games to work on our death hitting and our death bowling, so today is a good example of that. The more experience, hopefully, the better we'll get at executing."
"It is the hardest job in T20 cricket, death bowling."
Eoin Morgan
The one bowler to escape with both figures and dignity intact was Reece Topley - ironically, playing his first T20 international since he was hammered at the death by JP Duminy in the 2016 World Cup. He too used the dimensions in his plans, hanging the ball wide outside Shepherd's hitting arc with a short leg-side boundary and angling the ball into the left-handed Hosein's pads. Crucially, his execution was significantly better, in keeping with a fine return to the side: he took 1 for 18 in his four overs, had Nicholas Pooran dropped, and pulled off an athletic run-out off his own bowling.
One of the men tasked with post-match analysis in BT Sport's studio, Tom Curran, was better-placed than most to talk about England's travails, having himself slipped down the pecking order after some rough nights at the death - though he would have played in this series but for a stress fracture suffered in the Big Bash League.
"It was interesting to hear Morgs say that they were all going for the yorkers," he said. "I think a lot of the time what we've spoken about over the last year is actually the value of hard, heavy-length balls at the death.
"Yorkers are a funny one. You can be nailing them in practice but when you get out there in the middle, it's hard to describe - it really is a 'feel' thing for a bowler. You can find one early on in your spell and get your radar; on other days, you'll be struggling."
In the long term, the Hundred should help England's death-bowling depth by exposing young seamers to tough situations at the end of an innings. But in its first season, three of the five best regular death bowlers were overseas recruits (Adam Milne, Lockie Ferguson and Marchant de Lange) and the two domestic players (Jordan and Tymal Mills) are already in the England set-up.
It should serve as consolation for England that their first-choice death bowlers, Mills and Jofra Archer, were only onlookers in Barbados due to rotation and injury respectively, and as Mitchell Starc and Shaheen Shah Afridi showed in the other World Cup semi-final, even the best can have off-nights.
But this was a chastening night for Jordan and Mahmood all the same. Morgan often says that he wants England to be ruthless in white-ball cricket; across the last 12 months, their death bowlers have been anything but.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98