There was a moment in Delhi on Saturday where you could see exactly how far England have come since their World Cup exit against Bangladesh in March 2015. The direct run out from Ben Stokes was not the hardest you will ever see but it was one that England sides of the past would have missed. Ever since bottoming out in yet another global tournament a year ago, the only way has been up, and here at the World T20, they showed how far they have come.
Throughout the years the top sides have always been ruthless with the chances that have come their way. When the West Indies were dominant, Sir Viv Richards was running out the opposition in finals. Ricky Ponting, Australia’s former great, would seemingly never miss when presented with even one stump to aim at. It simply cannot be put down to luck anymore; the hours the players practice these days eliminates any chance of risk creeping in.
Simply the fact that England are now seizing these chances suggests that the improvement scale is very much on the upturn. With their new coach, Trevor Bayliss placing a huge emphasis on the side’s fielding, the results are finally starting to bear fruit. It has always been an area somewhat neglected by previous regimes and the leading sides in the world always just appeared much more consistent and accurate than England ever were.
With regards to the longer format of the game they prevailed against Australia in the Ashes, much to the surprise of many. They acquitted themselves well against Pakistan in the UAE and beat South Africa away from home. Certain caveats appear in the first and last though it must be said; namely the retirement of Ryan Harris and the absence of Dale Steyn, which both proved to be crucial in each series.
It is the shorter format though that has witnessed the starkest improvement. Under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan the side are playing freely and are finally able to show their talents off on the biggest stage. The likes of Jos Buttler, Joe Root and Ben Stokes are coming through in all formats so the nucleus of the side looks very exciting for the future. Only six of the players who started against Bangladesh remain in the current side and the shake up and introduction of some fresh faces has clearly helped.
The assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, who deserves a great deal of credit for the job he has done thus far, has commented more than once that the spirit within the side is incredibly good. With a lot of youngsters in there the excitement of playing International cricket is certainly there and with it the hunger to succeed is now promoted rather than stifled. It is Bayliss, and more pertinently Farbrace, that have encouraged this atmosphere and credit must go to them for that.
It is the players though that deserve the most credit. Executing their skills in the biggest arenas is the key to being successful. Watching Virat Kohli effortlessly knock Australia out on Sunday was the finest example of this during the tournament. He is the master of the chase. He is able to handle the pressure and execute his phenomenal skills in the toughest and most stressful moments. This is something that English players of the past have not managed to achieve on a consistent basis.
There is still a long way to go for England to consider themselves consistently one of the best teams in world cricket but they are certainly taking significant strides along the way. It is strange expecting the players to not do silly and stupid things anymore but the pressure remains and they are learning to channel it in a positive way. Mistakes will be made and no side is impregnable in the shorter formats if one or two players have superb games, but that consistency is what they are seeking.
With more exposure to other big tournaments across the world, the ability to perform at the highest level will become more straightforward. Kohli is the best because he has done it so many times now and he knows exactly what is required under that intense pressure. The likes of Buttler, Root and Stokes will only improve with the more experience they gain. England should be praised for their improvement and appreciate that it is their impressive skill levels, rather than luck, that have made them unnervingly impressive.
By Andy Hunter