England reap rewards of attacking mantra

At long last, England care passionately about a tournament that, for vast swathes of the build-up and even for the first week, they were little more than dispassionate bystanders

England are starting to play as if they are the new Pakistan  •  AFP

England are starting to play as if they are the new Pakistan  •  AFP

So now we know what "going for it" means. After England's defeat against South Africa at Trent Bridge, Paul Collingwood had issued that catch-all rallying cry - an unspecific promise to banish conservatism in all its forms and conclude the tournament in a blaze of aggression, glorious or otherwise. At Lord's today, England were true to their captain's demand, as they pulled together a stunning defence of a total that ought, by rights, to have been devoured by India's batsmen.
Whether it constituted a viable gameplan for the rest of the tournament remains to be seen, but for the here and now, against an anxious India that over-complicated their strategies in a bid to keep their title defence on track, it was superb and to the point. England gave up faffing with defensive fields and trying to be cute with their team selection. Instead they hit the deck hard and the Indian batsmen harder, and showed at last how much they want success in this format.
"It was a magnificent effort tonight," said England's captain, Paul Collingwood. "Sometimes we're very good at saying how good the opposition are, but what we've got in our ranks are three big guys who bowl up to 90mph, and that's obviously a great weapon to target teams. If we went with those plans we thought it would work, but what it took was belief in the bowlers to execute their plans, and they did that."
England's commitment could not have been further removed from the flaccid display against the Dutch with which they launched this tournament on this very ground last week. Though they restored their fortunes to some degree by dispatching Pakistan at The Oval, South Africa pushed them aside like five-stone weaklings up at Trent Bridge, and as England emerged from the Nursery Ground in the build-up to this contest, they were given an abrupt indication of just what the public had made of their efforts so far.
A section of the capacity crowd rounded on the team and booed them as they walked through to the main square, and as Collingwood admitted afterwards, additional motivational speeches were not required after that. "I think that hurt a few people," he said. "It was strange, to get booed on our home ground, at the home of cricket, but our performance tonight showed how much we wanted it. We took wickets at the right time and occasionally did something special. To defend a total like that against a line-up like India's, the boys can be very proud of themselves."
Arguably England have not shown such intent in a Twenty20 fixture since their very first match in the format, against Australia at The Rose Bowl back in 2005. Then as now, desire was the bedrock of their strategy, as England's pumped-up seamers tore into a bewildered batting line-up with a venom they usually reserve for Test cricket.
There was skill in the execution of course, as the bowlers hit their lengths according to the state of the game - short and shorter with the new ball, full and fuller with the old. But just as Netherlands had shown England what can be done when you care about a contest, so England put those painful lessons back into practice.
Even India's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, admitted his surprise. Short balls and boundary balls tend to be one and the same in his experience of Twenty20 cricket. "I think one of the ways to go against India is to be aggressive," said Collingwood. "On quicker pitches they sometimes do struggle with the extra bounce, and we wanted to exploit that tonight.
"We know what our plans are against India at the best of times - a bit of pace, and hit the ball into the ground hard," he added. "It's hard to do in Indian conditions, and that's why they are so successful over there, but we've got three big seamers to try to get it up there, and it's up to them if they want to take it on."
England have no time to revel in their success, which is probably just as well given their fluctuating fortunes in the tournament so far. A loss, a win, a loss, and now a win, and on Monday, a rematch looms against a West Indies team whom they have been beating for fun all summer long, but who - unlike England - have not struggled for motivation at any stage of this tournament.
"This will give us belief, it's going to be fresh in our memories for tomorrow," said Collingwood. "I said before this match, we had four games in which to win the World Cup, and we've now brought that down to three. Our last game and this game were both very similar, they were do-or-die situations and we've responded well to the pressure. A must-win game for us brings out the best of us."
However, it is unlikely that Chris Gayle and the gung-ho Dwayne Bravo will prove as reticent against the short ball as India's batsmen were today. England hit upon the perfect strategy for survival in this contest, but they will surely opt for a variation on their attacking theme if they are to guarantee their place in the semi-finals. What form will the "going for it" call take at The Oval, we wonder?
All that can be said for sure right now is that England care, passionately, about a tournament that, for vast swathes of the build-up and even for the first week, they were little more than dispassionate bystanders. They've captured imaginations that they didn't realise existed. In fact, they are starting to play as if they are the new Pakistan. Monday's follow-up to this triumph will determine whether that is a compliment or a curse.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo