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Match Analysis

Phil proves he is worth his Salt

With 87 not out off 47 balls against West Indies, the England opener showed he could bat deep and finish the game for his side

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Phil Salt soaks in the winning moment, West Indies vs England, T20 World Cup 2024, Super Eight, Gros Islet, June 19, 2024

Phil Salt soaks in the winning moment  •  ICC via Getty Images

Phil Salt played a walk-on role in England's T20 World Cup win in Australia two years ago but is a leading actor in their bid to become the first men's team to retain the title. After a series of false starts, this was where England's tournament began and Salt was the protagonist, walking off unbeaten with 87 not out off 47 balls to his name.
Until recently, Salt was a man for a good time, not a long time; a powerplay dasher who could be relied on for a lightning-fast start but not much more, rarely pushing on beyond the tenth over. It took until last year - the eighth of his T20 career - for him to face 50 balls in a single innings. Even the best canapés still need a main course to follow.
But in St Lucia, he showed how he has evolved as a player. He played high-impact innings throughout the IPL, with the Impact Player rule and the cushion of a deep batting line-up allowing him to tee off. But with England lighter than usual on batting and their finishers short on recent gametime, he recognised that his role was to bat through.
Salt raced to 35 off 20 after six overs, hitting towering sixes off Andre Russell and Alzarri Joseph. He has struggled in the past against left-arm spin but largely negated the threat of Akeal Hosein, albeit surviving an early chance when Nicholas Pooran dropped a difficult toe-ender behind the stumps.
Rather than passing the baton to the middle order, Salt recognised the opportunity to take the chase deep and win the game himself. With the field spread and West Indies' fingerspinners taking over, he hit 14 off 17 balls from overs seven till 15, letting Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow take the risks while he knocked the ball about.
And when it was time to go, he went hard: every ball of Romario Shepherd's 16th over went to - or over - the boundary, turning an equation of 40 off 30 balls into 10 off 24. It was stunning hitting, launching balls over cover, long-off and upper-cutting over Pooran. Once, Salt was a leg-side slogger; now he looks like a complete package.
The dimensions at St Lucia played a significant role on the night: the square boundary towards the grass banks and the party stand measured 63 metres; the longer one towards the Johnson Charles Stand was 72 metres. There was also a stiff breeze blowing across the ground from the north-east, meaning hitting towards the pavilion was downwind.
Salt has spoken extensively to Kieron Pollard since he linked up with England's squad at the start of the month, and has tapped into his vast experience of playing T20 in the Caribbean. They have talked about targeting bowlers from one end when the dimensions and the breeze line up like this.
"We've spoken a lot about taking eights from one side to take 12s from the other - and that's 200," Salt said. "It sounds so simple to say it, but [it was about] putting that into action. I knew I had slowed down. I knew I hadn't got much strike, but I knew that if I just got through that period, we would be in a good position and I could have a good dip, [take a] good calculated risk at the seamers."
Salt's splits were even more marked than Pollard suggested. When he stood at the pavilion end, with a long leg-side boundary and the breeze blowing towards him, he scored 27 off 22 balls (7.4 runs per over); when he was at the media centre end, hitting downwind with a short leg-side boundary, he belted 60 off 25 (14.4 runs per over).
"We've spoken a lot about taking eights from one side to take 12s from the other - and that's 200"
Phil Salt on his discussions with Kieron Pollard
He attributed his success to feeling comfortable in the side. Salt was privately seething last year when he missed out on England's squad to face New Zealand in four T20Is towards the end of their home summer, but won back his opening spot for December's Caribbean tour and made himself undroppable with two hundreds in that series.
"The more you play, the more you feel secure in yourself and in your game," he said. "It's probably one of those things that you feel more confident to do. I feel like when you're new to a side, you're thinking, 'what if I get out now?' but I feel like once you're a little bit more settled, you can play that role and take the onus on your own a little bit more."
There was another telling sign that Salt has grown up. In the 13th over, with Pooran chirping in his ear, he twice backed away before Gudakesh Motie could release the ball and asked him to stop. But rather than losing his temper, or letting Pooran bait him into a loose shot, he simply brushed it off. "I'm not sure if it's some sort of mind game… but it's nothing big at all."
Bairstow's innings - 48 not out off 26 balls, his highest at a T20 World Cup - was vital for Salt, vindicating England's decision to bat him in the middle order. He took Hosein and Joseph on in the 14th and 15th over and almost single-handedly turned a ten-an-over equation into a much more manageable required rate of eight.
But this was Salt's night, and his chance to show off to the world just how good he has become. "To come here against a very strong side that are riding that wave of momentum and in their own conditions and with their home crowd, to play an innings like that alongside Jonny and come away with a win is a great feeling," he said.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98