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A victory for England, and a victory for the IPL

England's T20 stars hit the ground running at Newlands after their impactful exploits in the UAE

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sam Curran and Jos Buttler celebrate another England breakthrough  •  Getty Images

Sam Curran and Jos Buttler celebrate another England breakthrough  •  Getty Images

Rajasthan Royals' Jofra Archer hits a length, and Mumbai Indians' Quinton de Kock sends it high and mighty over deep midwicket. Sam Curran digs one in short and his Chennai Super Kings team-mate Faf du Plessis picks out Chris Jordan of Kings XI Punjab at deep square leg. Delhi Capitals' Purple Cap winner Kagiso Rabada ties down Kolkata Knight Riders captain Eoin Morgan, but gets pounded for four by Sunrisers Hyderabad's Jonny Bairstow.
Welcome to international cricket, IPL style.
It was six years ago that Kevin Pietersen released KP: The Autobiography, in which he memorably compared talking to Andrew Strauss about the Indian Premier League to "speaking to the vicar about gangsta rap". It was not a problem that anyone within the England set-up would have recognised: in 2014, Pietersen was the sole English representative at the tournament.
Now, that could hardly seem more distant. After Strauss's improbable drive in his time as director of cricket to increase English involvement in the tournament, the picture has changed. England's 10 overseas players had a bigger impact on the 2020 season than any other nation's representatives, according to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats. For the second time in four years, an England player won the tournament's MVP award.
No tournament has as much relevance to England's T20 side as the IPL - not even the Vitality Blast. Across the last two years, England's playing XI tonight had made 63 appearances in the county game's T20 competition between them, compared to 135 - more than twice as many - in the IPL. That is not a slight at the Blast, which has served the counties so well, but it demonstrates that the T20 tournament involving England's best players takes place overseas.
The influence of the IPL was most apparent in the case of England's two star performers in their five-wicket win in Cape Town.
Sam Curran forced his way into the reckoning for this series not on the back of performances for Surrey, but through his breakthrough season for Chennai. "He was certainly thrown into all sorts of circumstances and had all sorts of challenges, but came out the other side glowing," purred Morgan on the eve of this series. That he came in for Moeen Ali - who captained England in their last T20I - without anyone raising an eyebrow told the story of the respect the tournament is now afforded.
Curran's early reputation as a T20 player was moulded as a powerplay swing bowler, and his ability is often overlooked on account of the fact his wickets are met with cries that he "makes things happen" rather than proof of his versatility. In fact, he is quickly becoming one of the format's most exciting young players.
His fourth over, the 17th, was his most impressive. With Rassie van der Dussen set and Heinrich Klaasen looking dangerous, he started with a back-of-a-length ball - with pace on - and then saw a perfect wide yorker squeezed away for four. From there, he dug another one in, bowled consecutive offcutters, and then bounced Klaasen out to finish with pristine figures of 3 for 28.
With the bat, the old-school way of doing things with 21 needed off 15 balls and his partner set would have been to give away the strike and take singles. Instead, as he had done in the UAE in Chennai yellow, Curran lined Rabada up and whacked the second ball he faced over long-on for six.
Curran's partner, and England's star with the bat, was Bairstow. He last played a T20 for Yorkshire back in 2016, but he has flourished as a short-form player since he was picked up by Sunrisers before the 2019 IPL.
It was no surprise that the decision to move him down to No. 4, grounded in his impressive ability of spin, paid immediate dividends. His IPL strike rate against spin is 145 over the last two years; the only player who has scored more runs at a better lick is his usual opening partner, David Warner.
Most impressive was Bairstow's calculated aggression. He had taken down South Africa's left-arm wristspinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, in their series in February, and lined him up again, bludgeoning 19 runs off the nine balls he faced. But against George Linde - a better target for the left-handed Ben Stokes, given he turned the ball into Stokes but away from Bairstow - he took four singles from six balls, happily ticking over to create a favourable match-up for his partner.
Against the seamers, Bairstow punished anything straight, hitting 25 runs off the 11 balls that arrived in line with the stumps. He was measured against South Africa's best bowler, Rabada, but destroyed their weaker links in Lungi Ngidi and Beuran Hendricks, taking them for a combined 54 off 24. Bairstow admitted afterwards that he had been disappointed to lose his place in the Sunrisers side this season, but it is not hard to imagine him slotting into their middle order next season.
Perhaps it is natural that the influence of the IPL should be at its greatest in a game like this: it was no great surprise that the players who were involved in a recent, high-level tournament should be in better form than those coming off a two-month rest. But England's win at Newlands was a long-term trend borne out in one night's work: this was the 23rd time that Archer, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes had played in the same T20 side, and the first 22 were for Rajasthan.
Without the IPL, Buttler's shift up the order may never have happened, and Archer would not have been given the chance, long before his international debut, to hone his skills against the world's best; Curran would have spent October on holiday and the start of November in the nets, and Bairstow's ability against spin could never have reached this level. Without the IPL, this would be a very different England team.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98