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England’s explosive Twenty20 batting line-up has sparked Eoin Morgan’s side’s rise to the top in white ball cricket in recent years. But on potentially worn pitches in the UAE, it’s England’s death bowling that could play a decisive role in deciding whether they become the first team in history to add a world T20 crown to the 50 over title they won on home soil in 2019.
Which is where Tymal Mills comes in. Mills was a revelation in The Hundred this summer, proving himself adept as both tying up an end and tying batsmen up in knots as the ball counter ran down.
Bowling at speeds of more than 90mph, the 29-year-old’s work in tandem with Chris Jordan – his Sussex and Hundred team-mate – was, ultimately, the decisive factor as the Southern Brave showed their bottle to beat the Birmingham Phoenix in the final at Lord’s.
They will be doing their best to repeat that double-act in T20 Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, as Sussex look to win the Blast for the first time since 2009.
Following that, Mills can focus his energy on the T20 World Cup – and putting himself in the shop window for another crack at the Indian Premier League (IPL) as one of best death bowlers in world cricket.
“Bowling at the death is largely a mentality thing,” he says. “Obviously you need to have the skill level because you need to have the underlying confidence that you’re able to go out there and execute whatever you’re trying to execute.
“But you need to want to bowl at the death. It’s obviously a difficult time of the innings to bowl, batsmen are looking to be super aggressive, and you have to keep everything in context.
“You have to understand that some days it’s not going to go your way ... and you’re going to get hit for six, especially the higher the level you play.
“You’ve got to want it and as an out and out bowler, I don’t want to be the type of bowler who bowls the easy overs because your career isn’t going to go very far, that’s how I see it.
“If I’m going to be playing cricket then I need to do the dirty jobs, the tough jobs – for right or for wrong, I’ll always back myself.”
Mills has never been one to take the easy option. A late entrant into cricket, Mills spent his younger years waking at 3am to help his mum at the local market in Suffolk before heading to school. He then suffered a series of back injuries before quitting red ball cricket – one of the first English players to do so – back in 2015.
Now, more than six years on, he is firmly established as perhaps the most complete white ball opening bowler out there. Although his good mate, Jordan, might have a thing or two to say about that.
“Ultimately, when you’ve got the ball in your hand, it doesn’t matter who’s bowling at the other end,” he says. “You’re focusing on your five or six deliveries but CJ and I know each other very well, we’ve played a lot of cricket together for Sussex and for the Southern Brave.
“It’s a trust thing – you want to give your mate the best chance of being successful, especially when you’re bowling at the death.
“It is about partnerships. I know that if I’m bowling the 19th over then I want to leave CJ with as many runs to bowl at as possible in the final over. There were a couple of times in the Hundred where I was bowling the penultimate five (balls) and CJ would give me a target - ‘try and leave me this, or try and leave me that’ and I would give it a crack.
“Sometimes I would beat it and sometimes I wouldn’t, but either way we trust each other and we back ourselves more often than not to finish the game between us.”
It has certainly proved successful so far in 2021, with the Brave winning the Hundred and now Sussex finding themselves just two wins away from the Blast title. With Jordan off to Surrey at the end of the season, Saturday will offer the pair the chance of a final hurrah in Sussex colours.
If they can repeat their form at the death for England at the World Cup, though, then this winning combination could survive a good while longer.