Wednesday 21 February 2018

Morgan eyes reward for English efforts

England's Eoin Morgan. Photo: Getty
England's Eoin Morgan. Photo: Getty

Stephen Brenkley

All versions of the World Twenty20 have confounded predictions. The winners have invariably been unexpected, not many of the finalists have exactly been favourites at the outset, the host nation has yet to provide the champions.

It would have been a contrary pundit who tipped England and West Indies as the finalists in the sixth tournament. One of them perhaps if they managed a series of good days, but both? Not a prayer, not even in Twenty20.

Yet here they are: one side unceremoniously dumped out of the 50-over World Cup barely a year ago, but light years then off the modern pace of all short form cricket; and their opponents, constantly humiliated in Tests, who are in regular and bitter dispute with their board and who at one time might have withdrawn from this competition.

Each of them has qualified for the final because they have remained faithful to core principles. After England's rank poor showing in Australia in 2015, it was recognised that something and everything had to change if they were to avoid continuing defeat and, worse, the probable loss of a generation of potential new followers.

Pretty quickly, they threw off all their previous cares and woes as if it were an unwanted old overcoat and just as rapidly found they liked being unencumbered. They were a revelation last June when they came bounding into the early summer sunshine and they have never looked back.

England have been rewarded for deciding what they had to do and doing it, no matter what the state of play. Sometimes it has been their undoing and they have been perilously close to defeat in this tournament.

In all three of the qualifying matches they won, there were moments when it seemed they must lose. But they kept going. By the time they played New Zealand in the semi-final, they had been through enough to produce the perfect game.

"We're quite real about things, we know it's not going to be a normal game," said England's captain, Eoin Morgan. "Even the semi-final we played against New Zealand, there was quite a lot of hype around the expectation of playing in a final, and I want all of our players to embrace it.

"Winning would mean a huge amount. I think, given the strides that we've made in the last 12 months in white-ball cricket, this would be a great reward for the mindset we've shown, the dedication and the hard work."

West Indies are an enigma. Useless at Test cricket these days, and in truth probably not that bothered, they have kept the sport alive in the Caribbean region by being adept at T20. Since the future of the game at large, firmly and unequivocally, is in Twenty20, it may have been a smart move.

But the players have been in a perpetual wrangle with their unappreciative bosses for 10 years. That dispute, mostly over pay, is far from being resolved. There is every likelihood that it will resume once the final is over.

Nor are they exactly appreciative of how too many view them. Darren Sammy, their captain, revealed that they had been particularly hurt by comments from the broadcaster, Mark Nicholas, who had described them as "short of brains," odd at best since West Indies were world T20 champions in 2012.

"To me, that particular comment really set it off for us," Sammy said. "To describe our team, who were defending champions two years ago, as guys with no brains is really out of order. Gods don't love the ugly. We're very wonderfully, beautifully made and that's why we play exciting cricket."

Any notion that either team are one-man batting shows has been trenchantly, brutally dismissed in this tournament. Joe Root and Chris Gayle are crucial elements, but they are no longer playing lone hands. One difference between the teams, though it is not that great any longer, is that West Indies hit a larger proportion of their runs in boundaries and are less inclined to rotate the strike.

West Indies are perhaps the cleverer operators with the ball. Their two spinners, Samuel Badree and Sulieman Benn, have each gone at under six runs an over, a feat achieved in the competition by only five bowlers who have delivered a minimum 10 overs.

England's spin pairing of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are both going at above nine runs an over. West Indies appear to have a plethora of variations, largely because they are more experienced in T20.

England have lost nine of the 13 T20 matches they have played against West Indies, including all four in the World T20, the most recent of which was at the start of this tournament, when Gayle was unstoppable. But the only certainty in the sixth final is that one of the teams will become the first to win the title twice.

England v West Indies,

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