If England are serious about targeting white ball success, and they claim they are as serious as the cancer that Snap sung about in Rhythm is a Dancer back in 1992, the next big event they need to focus on is the World T20 in March next year. Now that they have completed their only Twenty20 for this summer, they have one against the UAE (which for some reason is not a full international) and three against Pakistan before they will need to submit their final 15-man squad to the tournament.
By the time they play two T20s against South Africa in late February, they will have to do so with the team that will participate in the tournament in India that gets under way on 11th March. With that in mind, it is safe to assume that the team which took on Australia at Cardiff will be the core of the squad that will be heading to the spiritual home of the great god T20 next year.
Andrew Strauss was keen to give Eoin Morgan his backing as limited overs captain when he took over as the new head of the England team, and it would take an epic run of poor form to see him ousted from that job in the next six months. Morgan had been struggling in county cricket at the beginning of this month; such was his jadedness that he took a 30 day complete break from the game. It appears to have worked, as his 74 off 39 balls here was a welcome return to the form he displayed against New Zealand earlier this summer.
If England are to succeed at the World T20, they need a firing Eoin Morgan, but it is easy to argue that a performing Moeen Ali will be even more vital. As a bowler who can give you four overs and bat in the top three he is just about perfect for T20 in the sub-continent. His career best 72* here was both explosive and an anchor to the batting effort. His bowling proved just as important, claiming the vital wicket of Maxwell. It made you wonder why he didn’t bowl more than the one over when Adil Rashid’s leg spin proved expensive.
The Morgan-Moeen partnership was worth 135 runs from just 74 balls, and meant that England recovered from a horrible start that saw them lose both openers as Alex Hales and Jason Roy struggled to get going and got out cheaply. Despite their brilliant stand, there was a feeling that England left runs out there; certainly Moeen’s body language towards the end of the innings suggested some frustration.
His concern appeared spot on as Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell made the total look frighteningly small. No bowler could find any kind of control in the face of some outstanding striking, especially from Smith, who made his first international T20 fifty and his highest score in all T20s. The newly crowned Australian captain really is otherworldly at times. His drive for six over extra cover off David Willey was breathtakingly good. While he was there, Australia were winners. When he got out the chase fell away.
Despite this win, there are questions for this England team to answer. Other than Morgan and Moeen, no batsman made more than 11. Reece Topley and David Willey looked good at times but lacked answers in the face of the Smith master class. There was enough to suggest both men will succeed at this level, but this is a steep learning curve that needs to be ascended sooner rather than later.
This is a massively important result for a young England side. Wins make this newly found aggressive approach a lot easier to justify. However, even if they had lost it needs to be persevered with. If England are going to win a second World T20, they will do it playing this kind of cricket, not the timid and discombobulated efforts from the World Cup earlier this year.
While this was a thrilling game for a packed Cardiff crowd played on a fantastic pitch, the game began with the end of the last T20 of the Women’s Ashes. The fact that the denouement of that series will get second billing shows the flaw in scheduling the two games on the same day at the same ground.
The days when women’s cricket needed double headers with the men’s game are over. If their game is either served up before, with the ground and press box filling up slowly, or happening after with the stands emptying quickly, it makes the women’s match of secondary importance. Now that games are selling out smaller county grounds with reasonable regularity, it seems wrong to have the end of the seven week series as an appetiser for a one off game between the men’s teams, especially when the latter is nothing more than a chance to give new players a game ahead of an ICC event that is half a year away.