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By the time England assemble as a full T20 World Cup squad for the first time in Dubai on Saturday, they will have just one week until their opening fixture against the West Indies, who so famously pipped them to the title in 2016.
Eleven of the 15-strong squad, plus three travelling reserves, are training in picturesque Oman, a few hours up the road.
Those late on parade are at least using their time well. Last night, Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata Knight Riders pipped Delhi Capitals in a final-ball thriller of an IPL Qualifier to set up a place in tomorrow’s final against Moeen Ali’s Chennai Super Kings.
Morgan’s night distilled his tournament: fine captaincy, but a duck in KKR’s collapse continued a concerning run of form.
England travel to Dubai on Saturday, where they will link up with Morgan, Moeen, Tom Curran and Sam Billings, who went unselected for Delhi yesterday.
The week of prep will be a busy one. They have warm-up games against India on Monday and New Zealand on Wednesday, which they need to help them decide the make-up of their side in the absence of the injured trio of Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran.
The ECB’s dismal decision to cancel the tour of Pakistan has already robbed them of two fixtures, the second of which should have been yesterday.
The IPL has helped. While four Englishmen pulled out of the resumption of the tournament suspended due to Covid in May, 10 still travelled. They have not been short on game time, but they have struggled to make a major impact, while Curran picked up his stress fracture.
It has, though, been in the UAE at least. Chris Jordan, of Punjab Kings, said this week that those teams with plenty of IPL involvement had “a bit of a head start” because it had been so hot in Dubai, while it is also a chance to look at the pitches.
Those should be a source of concern for England. The IPL has seen some high-scoring games, but it has been spin that has characterised the tournament.
Indeed, Morgan’s KKR have used three front-line spinners to great effect. With a week of World Cup first-round matches between eight teams competing for four spots in the main event to come, those pitches are unlikely to liven up.
England have six seamers and three spinners (India, by contrast, have four of each). Adil Rashid will lead the way, while Moeen and Liam Livingstone — both worth a place for their batting — will be relied on for overs, too. Liam Dawson is a travelling reserve who will now only be drafted in if there is an injury, while Matt Parkinson leads a raft of wrist-spinners left at home.
England’s ability to play any more than three of their seamers has been hurt by injuries to their all-rounders. Had Stokes or Curran been available, Dawid Malan might have missed out.
That seems perverse, given his stellar international record and No1 T20 ranking, but Malan is a better player of pace than spin and it can take his time to get going in a team whose strategy is all-out attack.
With Livingstone emerging, Moeen brilliant against spin and Stokes, well, Stokes, England’s rich reserves could have cost Malan. Indeed, he may still not make the XI, but that would likely mean a bowler batting No7, denying England the depth that has characterised their white-ball cricket in recent years.
Likelier is that behind Jason Roy and Jos Buttler come Malan, Moeen and Jonny Bairstow in some order, before Livingstone and Morgan guide the second half of the innings. Alongside Rashid, that leaves three seam-bowling spots in a six-man attack that is a little light on wriggle room if someone takes a tonking.
Archer will be the most keenly-felt absentee. He is their best seamer in the powerplay, in the middle overs and at the death.
England have brought in Tymal Mills as a direct, pacy replacement. He combined well with Jordan at Southern Brave in the Hundred and should play. So, too, Mark Wood, whose raw pace can defy dull pitches.
That might leave England light in the powerplay, with new-ball specialists Chris Woakes and David Willey overlooked (although Mark Wood or Mills will likely need a rest).
England have, though, been working on Rashid’s ability to bowl with the new ball, which could prove a very useful asset.