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Death bowling, fringe batting and how to defend - England's lessons from T20I series defeat

England were favourites against Windies, but they haven't suddenly become a bad T20I side

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Moeen Ali sees "great learning" from series defeat against West Indies  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali sees "great learning" from series defeat against West Indies  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali, England's stand-in captain, admitted his half-strength side had been outplayed by West Indies during their 3-2 series defeat but said that the tour had been "a great learning" overall. With another T20 World Cup looming in Australia this October, there were areas for optimism and concern across the five games.

Death woes

England's last two T20 World Cup campaigns have ended with them leaking runs at the death in knockout games and they will need to make quick and marked improvements in that area to avoid the same fate in 2022.
England have been the worst death-bowling team in the world since the start of last year, leaking more than 11 runs an over in the phase; in this series, they went at 13.22 runs an over across the final four. They generally tried to bowl yorkers but regularly missed their lengths with full tosses or slot balls, and were punished off the back foot whenever they dropped shorter.
Reece Topley, their best seamer across the series, conceded 9.83 an over at the death - miserly in the context of the phase, West Indies' depth of power-hitters and the short boundaries that were a regular feature at Kensington Oval - but Chris Jordan (15.00) and Saqib Mahmood (16.00) were both hammered. Jordan has been a lock in England's T20I side for seven years, but increasingly looks to be on borrowed time.
Tymal Mills had a poor series but was miscast - he bowled only seven balls at the death, where he is a specialist - while a smooth return from injury for Jofra Archer later this year would be a major boost. "We're obviously trying to work on it and trying to find solutions," Moeen said. "We will get better as time goes on and guys like Jof come back."
A struggle to take early wickets - they managed only four in the powerplay across the series - contributed: West Indies' death bowlers generally had England's lower order in their sights whereas England's tended to face West Indies' powerful middle order. Across the series, West Indies took 43 wickets to England's 23.

Spin strength

This was a tough series for England's seam bowlers but another excellent one for their spinners after their success in last year's World Cup. Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone and Adil Rashid took 16 wickets between them and conceded 6.73 runs an over; the seamers took six between them and leaked 9.83 an over.
Rashid was England's attack leader, conceding less than a run a ball. West Indies generally opted to play him out rather than attempting to take him down, recognising him as England's biggest threat: he bowled four overs in all five games, and his most expensive spell cost just 28 runs.
Rashid has become an increasingly consistent T20 bowler in the last two years and self-reported as "100% fit" during the World Cup after managing a long-term shoulder injury. His sharply-spun googly to bowl Nicholas Pooran in Sunday's decider saw him overtake Jordan as England's all-time leading wicket-taker in this format.
Moeen has the snap back in his bowling action and is being used as a frontline spinner again after a long period as a peripheral figure in the T20I set-up; across the last year, he has conceded just 6.43 runs an over. Livingstone was off the pace after a bout of oesophagitis but still chipped in with his combination of offspinners and legbreaks.
Conditions in Australia later this year may not lend themselves to a three-seamer, three-spinner attack, not least with the World Cup scheduled for the start of the Australian summer. But England may play on some drop-in pitches and play at least two games at the MCG, where vast square boundaries may permit a spin-heavy attack.

Fringe batters tread water

England rested their multi-format players - Sam Billings was the only exception - after the Ashes, which provided opportunities for several fringe batters. Billings, Tom Banton, James Vince and Phil Salt all showed glimpses of their best form without banging the door down, and Harry Brook struggled to get going in his only innings.
Salt's innings on debut - 57 off 24 - was perhaps the most impressive, since it came in an unfamiliar role. Like many T20I sides, England have a logjam of top-order options meaning that certain players find themselves reinvented at international level: Jonny Bairstow's transformation into a No. 4, which was a qualified success, is an obvious example.
Salt opens in domestic cricket and is a fast starter in the powerplay but can get tied down against spin. With few teams comfortable holding back their spinners until the death, his best route into the side in the short term may be as a versatile finisher, evoking the shift Matthew Wade - a destructive opener in the BBL - made for Australia at the last World Cup.

Thrill of the chase

Morgan lost the toss in the first game but said he would have chosen to bat anyway, a tacit admission that England's unfamiliarity with setting totals and working out par scores on different pitches had cost them in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in November. They made 166 that night, which Morgan said was par - but with a batting-heavy strategy and dew altering conditions at the end of the chase, they needed more than that.
England's rise to No. 1 in the ICC's T20I rankings relied on a strong chasing record but limited-overs teams are remembered for trophies, not rankings. They won one toss out of five in this series and chose to bowl, as they have in each of the last 25 times they have won the toss in T20Is - a streak which dates back to September 2016.
Chasing teams have been slightly more successful in floodlit games across the last three BBL seasons (68 chasing wins, 56 defending) suggesting that the toss will again be an important factor in the knockout stages of this year's World Cup. England would be well-served by choosing to bat whenever they get the chance in the rest of their build-up for the tournament - though two bat-first wins out of three in this series showed signs of progress.

Keeping perspective

England were favourites for this series and were naturally disappointed to lose but they have not suddenly become a bad T20I side. This was only their second defeat in their last dozen bilateral series, and despite missing a score of first-choice players through injury or unavailability, they were in the game until the final over of Sunday's decider.
They do not play another T20 international until July 7 and there will be countless opportunities for players to come in and out of form before they start their World Cup campaign against Afghanistan in Perth on October 22, not least with so many involved in the PSL and IPL over the next few months.
England remain one of the world's best T20I sides on flat pitches where their long batting line-up have freedom to attack and will go into the World Cup as one of the favourites. As Australia showed in the UAE, a talented squad which clicks into place for a couple of weeks can be enough to win a short tournament where randomness is inherent.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98