There was a telling moment in the aftermath of Sunday's T20 World Cup final
where Chris Jordan,
with a newly-minted winner's medal around his neck, was speaking to Sky Sports on the outfield about the language used in England's dressing room over the last month.
and Matthew Mott,
Jordan said, had spoken extensively about "dealing with and adapting to conditions on the day; not being afraid to win ugly." The message, he explained, was: "You don't always have to win in style, just win by any means necessary."
As Jordan shook hands with Eoin Morgan
and Ian Ward, then ran off to find a glass of red wine, his words started to register. For all the focus on England's impossibly long batting line-up - Jordan, an IPL No. 7, found himself carded as low as No. 10 in the knockout stages - they had to dig deep and grind out wins in two of their four consecutive must-win games in Australia
, rather than hitting their way out of trouble.
There has never been any question that, when post-2015 England click, they are a brilliant side. Against New Zealand, they were hyper-flexible with their batting line-up after a big opening stand, with Moeen Ali
and Liam Livingstone
promoted and Dawid Malan sliding down to No. 8; the second half of their innings was scrappy and chaotic, but they ended up with a winning total. Their semi-final against India
was as dominant a win as you will see.
But their victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan on slow pitches at the SCG and MCG respectively highlighted the extent to which England have evolved. In the first, their middle order batted poorly after Buttler and Alex Hales'
bright start but Ben Stokes
bailed them out with an anchoring 42 not out off 36 balls
. He was unbeaten again in the final with 52 off 49, another determined, old-school innings that had little style but plenty of substance.
After a blip against Ireland
- their only defeat since arriving in Australia in early October - England's bowlers were exceptional, and were the main reason they beat Pakistan. As Stokes himself noted: "In finals, especially chasing, you forget all the hard work that came first. The way we bowled… that won us the game on a tricky wicket. To restrict them to 130-odd, the bowlers have to take a lot of the credit."
There has been plenty written on England's white-ball revolution but their evolution has often gone unnoticed. Since their dramatic win at Lord's in 2019
, their limited-overs teams have undergone a gradual but constant transition, to the extent that only four men - Stokes, Buttler, Chris Woakes
and Adil Rashid
- played in both finals. Liam Plunkett and Morgan have moved on, Jason Roy and Joe Root have lost their spots in the T20I team, and Jonny Bairstow, Archer and Wood were all injured.
Moeen was running the drinks on July 14, 2019 while Sam Curran
was playing for the Lions at Canterbury and Hales was sat at home, dual-screening the cricket and the Wimbledon final. Phil Salt
and Jordan were in the away dressing room at Old Trafford for a County Championship game, which Livingstone missed through injury, while Harry Brook
had just peeled off his second first-class hundred in Yorkshire's fixture in Taunton.
For England, international cricket has become a squad game. During a four-hour selection meeting for the World Cup in late August, Bairstow, Malan, Topley and Wood were all pencilled into a nominal 'strongest XI' and the rest of the squad picked in order to cover as many bases as possible. In practice, none of them were available for the final but while other teams were unable to cope with injuries - India's attack was impotent in the semi-final without Jasprit Bumrah - England's stand-ins thrived.
They have also adapted the method that took them to 50-over success. Buttler's record as an opener - he averages 48.66 at a strike rate of 151.93
that role for England - has been phenomenal but his initial promotion was controversial and it took three years for the debate over his best role in the side to subside. The same was true for Root's continued omission, and both players - the best England batters of their generation - have taken their game to a new level since they stopped playing one of the three international formats.
Curran's impact in Australia - he was named player of both the final and the tournament - was unexpected, but testament to Buttler and Mott's knack of getting the big calls right. Back in 2018, with an unremarkable domestic white-ball record, he was picked for two ODI squads on potential and by the time he made his T20I debut, he had played in showpiece Test series against India and Australia and been sold for big money at the IPL: England identified early that he was high-potential white-ball player, despite a skillset that did not stand out.
He was frustrated to lose his place in the side during the home summer, dropping out for the win over a weakened India at Trent Bridge
in favour of the extra batter, but could have few complaints: across five home T20Is in 2022, he went wicketless and conceded 9.18 runs per over. England experimented with his role in Pakistan then doubled-down on the idea of using him as a death bowler in Australia; it proved an inspired decision.
Hales fully justified the decision to recall him as an injury replacement for Bairstow, even if his initial exclusion had not been for cricketing reasons alone. His inclusion could easily have been a distraction and he started the tournament slowly; it would have been tempting to drop him for Salt, the spare batter, ahead of the New Zealand game but instead he made 52, 47 and 86 not out before his failure in the final. Rob Key, a left-field appointment as managing director in April
, deserves huge credit.
England's team for the knockout stages looked like a template for other teams to follow: three different types of spinner (Rashid, Moeen, Livingstone); four fast bowlers including a left-armer (Curran), a genuine quick (Jordan), a swing bowler (Stokes) and a seam bowler (Woakes), all seven capable of bowling across different phases of the game. Throw in the world's most complete white-ball batter (Buttler), two explosive top-order hitters (Hales and Salt) and a promising young finisher (Brook) and you have a champion side.
"You've been the benchmark of white-ball cricket [for] a long time now," Aaron Finch wrote in an Instagram post addressed to Buttler - quite the admission from an Australian captain. Other national teams may take a while to catch up - international teams must make do with the players they have available to them, after all - but in the open marketplace of the franchise world, they already are: at least 40 Englishmen will be involved in either the SA20 or ILT20 in early 2023, and plenty more in the PSL and IPL.
But, as they showed on Sunday, they are not just a team of senseless hitters: they have the adaptability that Jordan mentioned. It is tempting to view elite sports teams through the lens of overarching strategies or ideas but the very best can adjust those philosophies when they need to. Just like the class of 2019, England's 2022 winners had a method that was tested as the World Cup approached its pointy end, but managed to overcome every challenge.
England's white-ball teams have been relentless: they have reached the semi-finals in the last five men's ICC events
and are the first men's team to hold both World Cups simultaneously. They have achieved what no other England side has throughout recent history: sustained success, rather than fleeting brilliance. Now, even with two trophies in the bank, it feels like there are more to come.