Forget the weather – Dubai and Birmingham have more in common than you think.
Both second cities, both with large South Asian communities, both providing the stage for England’s Chris Woakes to torment Australia at an ICC mega event.
In the semi-finals of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in 2019, Woakes ripped through their top-order and reduced them to 14 for three as England romped home by eight wickets.
At the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021, Woakes ripped through their top-order and reduced them to 15 for three as England romped home by eight wickets.
The story hasn’t changed and neither has Woakes, underrated by all other than those who have to face him, moving the ball both ways and owning prime real estate on a good length.
The scary thing is that England went six years without using him in a T20 international.
Before Eoin Morgan brought him back into the side to face Sri Lanka in June, Woakes hadn’t played a T20I since November 2015, against Pakistan in Sharjah.
In the absence of Jofra Archer and with Mark Wood out injured, Woakes is now indispensable.
David Warner’s form has fluctuated across formats in recent years, but 65 against Sri Lanka suggested the southpaw could start to embark on a run of form heading into this Ashes clash.
Enter Woakes in the second over. The 32-year-old found the seam and brought the ball away from Warner, who tried to open the face but could only feather through to Buttler, gone for one.
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) October 30, 2021
With the next ball he beat Steven Smith all ends up, taking the ball practically off the face of his bat with late movement and then nearly trapping the No.3 in front two deliveries later.
You simply couldn’t keep the Birmingham native out of the game as he was the man to take a simple catch that Smith looped to mid-on off the bowling of Chris Jordan in the third over.
Things were bleak but far from irretrievable for Australia at 11 for two but they needed Woakes to cut them some slack. Fat chance.
Glenn Maxwell played down the wrong line and Woakes did the rest with another that seamed prodigiously and would have uprooted leg stump had it not rapped the pad.
It is a truism of modern cricket that early wickets in the powerplay is the only way to contain scoring. Par scores are low in this tournament, but this fact hasn’t changed.
England’s is a Swiss army knife of a bowling attack, giving them the edge in almost any match-up.
Moeen Ali, who did the damage in their first two wins over West Indies and Bangladesh, wasn’t even used here, presumably in deference to Aaron Finch’s prowess against off-spin.
They instead used Liam Livingstone’s full allocation as he switched between off and leg-spin practically between deliveries, whether he was bowling to right or left handers.
“It's just a reflection on my captaincy,” the England skipper said of the decision.
“The matchups at the time didn't suit. They do suit for some of the Australian players, but they were already dismissed, and I thought that worked really well.
“Moeen is quite a relaxed guy and knows the role that he plays both before the game and during the game. That's always communicated across all of the bowling unit.
“We try and adapt and talk about what might work on the wicket against different players, and today unfortunately he wasn't needed.”
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) October 30, 2021
It was suggested before the match in some quarters that Chris Jordan may have to make way for Wood when he returns to full fitness.
Jordan gave a timely reminder of his value, getting the crucial wicket of stoical Finch in the penultimate over to prevent Australia’s total swelling to approach 150.
It looked like 200 wouldn’t have been enough with Jos Buttler in the kind of form that saw him thump an incredible unbeaten 71 from 32 balls.
With three sixes travelling more than 90 metres, Buttler was at his brutal best and it was one of his great innings.
“I think he's certainly one of our players — there are a few of them, that are at the forefront of change in the game,” said Morgan.
“He's one of the best players in the game but yet he's still trying to improve his game and get better against every single bowler that he faces.
“It's not just targeting bowlers that might suit him, it's every bowler.
“When you've got guys that are at the forefront of change within the game and like positive change, taking-the-game-forward type stuff, it says a lot about the guy.”
England, of course, went on to win the Cricket World Cup two years ago after beating Australia.
In this form, that saw them dismantle their arch rivals with more than eight overs to spare, it’s hard to see anything but the same name on that trophy.
“All credit to England in that powerplay, the way that they squeezed us, kept taking wickets,” said Finch.
“Obviously when you go in with specialist batters that probably is going to leave you a little bit short at times. It's not an ideal scenario when you go in with that structured team.
“The reason Agar was in there was we felt it was a really good matchup for England. His ability to bowl in the powerplay and through the middle overs in the past against England has been really good.
“We just thought that that was the way to go tonight. It was not a reflection on how Mitch has been going at all. It was purely just a matchup thing for this game. It was unfortunate we didn't get the job done.”