Cow Corner

England’s T20 defence made little sense

Cow Corner

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Yesterday morning, Ravi Bopara tweeted: "Whole day of FIFA [the football video game] I reckon. Nothing else to do in Kandy"

24 hours later, he was parachuted back into the England team for the first time in this tournament.

Six balls later, his innings — and indeed his tournament — was over, having missed a ball from spinner Jeevan Mendis which started on the stumps and then went on to hit the stumps.

On the face of it, the question is what was going through Bopara's mind? His tweets read like the thoughts of a man who didn't expect a chance to play at the highest level 24 hours later.

Bopara is a player who has rarely been able to conjure form from nothing. He came into the tournament on a run so desperate that he was dropped from the starting XI, and since then had no time in the middle to arrest that slump.

But it's not Bopara's fuzzy thinking that really needs questioning. What was the logic of picking him?

Was he really any more likely to do a job than Craig Kieswetter, whose form has admittedly been dreadful? What about Michael Lumb, a T20 World champion opener at the previous edition, who has also sat on the sidelines throughout the tournament?

England had a slump in form, and they found themselves plucking ideas out of thin air to fix it.

Going into what was effectively a quarter-final, they switched wicketkeeper, opening batsman, as well as a seamer (Jade Dernbach for Tim Bresnan) and a spinner (Samit Patel for Danny Briggs). In the batting line-up, they bumped Luke Wright and Jonny Bairstow up the order, plopped Patel in at four for the first time, while Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler dropped down. Bopara, as if to illustrate the feeling that he was picked because they suspected there were no alternatives, was hidden at six when previously he had been at three.

Now, there's an old-fashioned maxim that if you fling enough mud at a wall, some of it will stick — and so it proved as Patel rose to the occasion with an innings of surprising but pleasing assurance and belligerence. His composed and classy 67 from 48 balls was what turned England's humiliating exit into merely a limp one.

But England's woes stem from an obvious source. In a tournament with very little separating any of the eight top teams, it's unwise to shoot yourself in the foot and put yourself at an obvious disadvantage.

But Kevin Pietersen's situation was not resolved in time, and so he sat in the television studio watching as the top order failed with regularity in the powerplay overs.

It appears that KP's stand-off with the ECB could be sorted in the next few days, with the batsman returned to the fold. Cow Corner isn't allowed into those meetings any more, but he suspects that the only major thing which has changed in the last couple of weeks is the fact that England have lost some key games.

Whether that reconciliation materialises, or he has to apologise again to the ECB, you, me, passing strangers and their pets, Pietersen's return would obviously improve the England team, but would not serve as a cure-all for all England's T20 problems.

When they won the World T20 in 2010, England liked to bowl first and chase — and did not concede 150 runs in an innings as they did it. This year against the Test nations they were asked to chase 171 by India, 180 by the West Indies, and 170 by Sri Lanka. Each time they had too much to do — but on two of those occasions, they did manage 150. The bowlers lacked the control to give an inexperienced batting line-up attainable targets.

Patel impressed with the bat, but as a left-arm spinner he looks some way short of what Michael Yardy offered two years ago. Jade Dernbach's varieties could have been tailor-made for these wickets — but the Surrey man lacked the form and at times the luck he needed, and was according shuffled in and out of the team in a way which betrayed a lack of confidence in him from coach and captain.

Asking England to defend their World T20 on the subcontinent was about as far-fetched as expecting Usain Bolt to break his 100m world record in the pool — the subcontinent is England's black spot, where spinners are magicians and pitches are riddles that only other nations seem able to understand.

Next month England are in India for a four-Test series — different format, different personnel, but similar challenges.

Stuart Broad, the captain out in Sri Lanka, insisted that England have learned from this latest failure. The question is what have they learned, and how quickly can they apply it?

Anything's got to be better than sitting in the hotel all day playing FIFA.

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