Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan star as England lose just one white-ball series in 2020 and build for T20 World Cup

Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan star as England lose just one white-ball series in 2020 and build for T20 World Cup

December 22, 2020

2020 had a tough act to follow when it came to England white-ball cricket.

The preceding year had seen Eoin Morgan and his men hit the one-day jackpot by winning their first 50-over World Cup on an unforgettable afternoon at Lord’s.

It’s true to say that a series of encounters against South Africa (twice), Ireland, Pakistan and Australia didn’t mean as much as their trophy triumph in 2019.

In fact, those England World Cup winners embedded in the Test set-up played a minimal amount of limited-overs cricket, with separate red and white-ball bubbles in operation during the summer amid a jammed fixture list and coronavirus-shortened campaign.

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Test commitments for the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer presented fringe players with opportunities. They would have had even more had the ODI series in South Africa gone ahead in December with Stokes, Archer and Sam Curran rested for encounters that were ultimately postponed on player welfare grounds after a spate of Covid cases. A decision Cricket South Africa was not best pleased with…

Willey, Billings down Ireland

England’s white-ball year started and ended in South Africa but we will begin this review in the middle when, a few weeks after the one-year anniversary of the World Cup final, two men who missed out that tournament propelled England to victory in their first ODI on home turf since that dramatic boundary-countback win over New Zealand.

David Willey – omitted from England’s World Cup 15 so that Jofra Archer could be accommodated – and Sam Billings – ruled out of World Cup contention after suffering a dislocated shoulder – recorded five wickets and an unbeaten fifty respectively as Morgan’s men won their series opener against the captain’s native Ireland.

Willey bagged four wickets inside his first four overs as Ireland tumbled to 28-5 at The Ageas Bowl and although debutant Curtis Campher’s unbeaten 59 helped the tourists scramble to 172 all out – Willey with the final wicket – it never looked likely to be enough.

England did suffer a top-order wobble, with established opening pair Jason Roy (24) and Jonny Bairstow (2) falling early and James Vince (25) doing a James Vince by getting in, looking in supreme touch, and then getting out. At 78-4 in the 14th over, Ireland had hope.

Billings (67no) and Morgan (36no) quashed that hope, however, with the former kicking off a fine 50-over summer for him personally, one in which he struck 315 runs in six ODIs, including a maiden hundred against Australia, at an average of 78.

The Kent captain and Willey joined forces with the bat in the second game against Ireland, with their unbroken partnership of 79 for the seventh wicket rallying England from 137-6 chasing 213 and to a series-sealing win with a game to spare.

A clean sweep would not be secured with Paul Stirling (142) and Andy Balbirnie (113) adding 214 for the second wicket as Ireland completed a stunning run chase of 329 to earn a consolation win, rendering Morgan’s century, and fifties for Willey and Tom Banton, in vain.

Malan moves top of the world

If Billings and Willey were England’s ODI MVPs, then Dawid Malan was undoubtedly their T20 kingpin. In fact, he’s T20I batting’s kingpin, with the 33-year-old sitting proudly atop of the rankings with a never-before-seen rating of 915. Dawid Malan – record-breaker.

The left-hander had been left out of the first two matches of the 2-1 win in South Africa in February – a harsh call considering he had crunched a national-record 48-ball hundred against New Zealand in his previous T20I, in Napier in November 2019.

Perhaps Malan’s omission was down to Morgan’s anger that he had not run a single off the last ball after completing his ton against New Zealand in order to guarantee a not out. Perhaps it was simply due to the embarrassment of riches in England’s white-ball unit.

What’s not up for debate is how Malan responded after being reintroduced to the side. Ten T20I innings in 2020. Four fifties. Average of 49.62. Strike-rate of 142.29.

Malan smashed it out of the park, just as he literally did in the final T20I against South Africa a few weeks ago as his five sixes and 99 not out from 47 balls in Cape Town saw England seal a 3-0 sweep to move to the summit of the T20 rankings.

Malan and Buttler (67no off 46) put on the highest second-wicket stand in the history of T20I cricket – a partnership of 167 – and Malan could have also been toasting his second T20I ton if his maths had been a little sharper and had he not had Morgan’s words after that non-single in New Zealand ringing in his ears. On 98 and with one needed to win, Malan took the one.

The batsman – who had hit a scratchier but equally important half-century in Paarl two days earlier – now averages 53.43 from 19 T20Is with nine fifties and a century, with two of those fifty-plus scores coming in the summer assignments at home to Pakistan and Australia.

Malan struck an unbeaten 54 in the second T20I against Pakistan as a 112-run alliance with Morgan (66 from 33) saw England to their target of 196 in a series that would be drawn 1-1 after the first game was rained off and Pakistan won the third.

Malan then scored 66 in the first game of the 2-1 triumph over Australia, although that really should have come in a losing cause with Aaron Finch’s tourists coasting at 98-0 in pursuit of 163 only to then suffer a dramatic collapse – and not for the last time that summer.

England and Australia go head to head

Buttler struck 44 in that game but bettered that with unbeaten 77 a few days later to wrap up a series success for England and show once again why, despite the debate over his best batting position, Morgan seems determined to keep his vice-captain at the top of the order.

An England side without Buttler – the 30-year-old old given dispensation to leave the bubble and see his family – lost the final T20I as Australia claimed a consolation win. Finch’s side then prevailed 2-1 in a topsy-turvy ODI series.

Billings’ first ODI ton and Bairstow’s 84 kept England in contention in the opener before Adam Zampa (4-55) and Josh Hazlewood (3-26) kept the hosts below Australia’s 294-9.

Australia imploded in the second game, wilting from 144-2 to 207 all out chasing 231 and at one point losing four wickets for three runs as Chris Woakes and Archer revived England. Fast forward to the third ODI, however, and it was Australia who came back from the brink.

Set 302 for victory after Bairstow’s 112 and fifties for Billings and Woakes, Finch’s men were reduced to 73-5.

But then up stepped Glenn Maxwell (108) and Alex Carey (106) to resuscitate the innings with a stand of 212 before Mitchell Starc smashed a six and a four as Australia managed the 10 runs they needed from Rashid’s final over to inflict a first home ODI series defeat on their opponents since 2015.

Morgan motors with the bat

The fact England had gone five years since last losing a 50-over series on their own patch speaks volumes for Morgan’s impact as captain – but he has arguably never been more valuable as a batsman than he is at the moment.

True, he was quiet in the recently-concluded T20 series win in South Africa, with Malan, Buttler and Bairstow doing the bulk of the run-scoring, but he had been key in the 2-1 win over the same opponents back in February when fans were allowed in the stands.

In the series opener, Morgan (52no off 34) and Roy (70 off 38) had England in control at 132-2 in a chase of 178 – only for the tourists to slump to a one-run defeat.

Morgan had tonked Beuran Hendricks for four, four and six in the penultimate over to leave his side needing seven runs from as many balls, only for the captain to pick out long-on next delivery and then Tom Curran, Moeen Ali and Rashid to fall in a dramatic final over.

The second game was a reverse thriller with South Africa the ones unable to get over the line in their chase of 205 – the hosts short on 202-7 as Tom Curran held his nerve in the final over after being thumped for successive boundaries by Dwaine Pretorius second and third ball as the Proteas reduced the requirement to five needed from three deliveries.

The fact South Africa were chasing so many owed much to Moeen (39 from 11 balls) and Stokes (47no off 30) as the duo bossed a sixth-wicket stand of 51 in 18 balls as England plundered 79 runs from their final 29 deliveries.

England captain Morgan was then back at the fore in the series decider, with his 57no from 22 balls taking his side past South Africa’s mammoth 222-6 with five balls to spare after earlier half-centuries for Bairstow and Buttler. The win made sure England went unbeaten in series on the tour, having drawn the ODI series, in which Joe Denly scored two fifties.

Full steam ahead for T20 World Cup

England played seven white-ball series in 2020, winning four, drawing two and losing just the one, leaving them top of both the T20I and ODI rankings. Things are looking rather rosy, though that’s not to say there aren’t areas of worry or things to seriously ponder.

Roy is struggling with the bat, having made only 72 runs in his previous nine ODI or T20I innings and faced only 99 balls in international cricket since March, while, with Moeen Ali’s form tailing off amid a lack of action, England will be praying leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who is bowling quicker and quite beautifully now that he is on top of a shoulder issue, steers clear of injury.

Then there is the Joe Root question. The Test skipper is not currently in England’s T20 squad but having been their top-run scorer in the previous T20 World Cup in India in 2016, should he return for the next one, also in India, in October and November in 2021?

All focus is on that tournament and England will carry on preparations for it in India in March with a five-match series against Virat Kohli’s side. Come out on top in that and the belief that they can become double World Cup champions will only grow.

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