England ‘irreplaceable’ Adil Rashid can put India in a spin in T20 World Cup showdown

Spin to win: Adil Rashid  (PA)
Spin to win: Adil Rashid (PA)

Ben Stokes’ second ball had been walloped over the short leg side boundary for six. Mark Wood’s first soon followed it, at the start of an over that whizzed away for 17. Even Sam Curran, perhaps the outstanding bowler in the tournament so far, could not contain Sri Lanka’s charge.

And so, in the final over of the powerplay, with a must-win game already in danger of spiraling out of England’s control, Jos Buttler turned to Adil Rashid.

This was how it always used to be for Buttler’s predecessor as England captain, Rashid the trump card Eoin Morgan would play whenever a partnership was for breaking or the squeeze to be applied.

Typically, Morgan preferred to save Rashid for the middle overs but Buttler’s need was more pressing and amid the carnage, the spinner took the ball, rolled his sleeves halfway up his forearms and found a bit of calm.

Rashid’s first 12 balls cost only eight runs after England’s seamers had gone around the park. Later, he would return to take the wicket of Pathum Nissanka, for 67, depriving Sri Lanka of their set batter going into a death spell when anything like a decent acceleration might, as it turned out, have sent England home.

Buttler’s faith was familiar, the same kind Morgan showed relentlessly in a player he recalled at the start of his revolution in 2015 after years in the international wilderness, but he could not have been overly confident it would pay off.

Rashid had gone wicketless in the tournament to that point, his numbers having been in decline prior to Morgan’s retirement and more notably so since. The slump could hardly be said to be over now either - Rashid has taken two wickets for 186 runs since arriving in Australia last month - but ahead of tomorrow’s crunch semi-final against India, a confidence-boosting contribution of 1-16 could hardly have come at a better time.

In the UAE a year ago, Rashid began the tournament on fire, claiming ludicrous figures of 4-2 in the opening rout of the West Indies, but was eventually powerless to halt England’s implosion at the death in the semi-final against New Zealand.

 (AP)
(AP)

This time, the stars might just be aligning for the reverse trajectory. Soggy conditions in the first part of the Super 12 did Rashid no favours, but as the Australian summer warms up, he will hope to do likewise.

Thursday’s semi-final will be played on a used wicket at the Adelaide Oval, a ground generally conducive to spin, and India’s army of right-handers should be vulnerable to the leggy, though against conventional wisdom Rashid has actually had more joy against left-handers of late and there is talk Rishabh Pant could be preferred to Dinesh Karthik to counter the threat.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first men’s knockout game between the countries in 35 years and England will start as underdogs. While Buttler’s side made hard work of the group stage, India won four from five, losing only to a strong South African outfit who really ought to have made the last four themselves.

Arshdeep Singh has ensured Jasprit Bumrah has not been missed (yet) with the ball and with the bat, India possess the tournament’s two best performers in Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav, who scored a century in his last T20 against England in July. Rashid, it is worth pointing out, has a superb record against Kohli and missed Suryakumar’s fireworks while making the Islamic pilgrimage to Hajj. That series - which India won 2-1 - served as a reminder of England’s lack of leg-spin depth beyond their reliable incumbent.

After the Sri Lanka game, Morgan dubbed Rashid “irreplaceable” and succession will indeed be a problem. Thankfully, it is one for another day.