The storm clouds continue to gather around England. Having escaped Melbourne’s daily drizzle for sunnier Queensland, in an otherwise dreamy week the forecast for Brisbane on Tuesday – the day of their crucial T20 World Cup Super 12 match against New Zealand – is absolutely filthy. The hope is that, as is predicted, the clouds lift in mid-afternoon, and the players’ performance levels rise with them.
England have toiled through much of their opening two matches, and probably the only players who can claim to have played well in both games are Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone. Like the Australian sun however they have hardly had time to shine, facing 22 and 23 balls respectively. England are rightly determined to use them less sparingly in future.
New Zealand meanwhile have breezed through their first two completed matches, trouncing Australia and Sri Lanka, the perennial outsiders once again making a mockery of widespread pre-tournament pessimism. “They’re looking ridiculous,” England’s Harry Brook said on Sunday. “They’re looking like, for me, probably the favourites at the minute.”
In each of the Kiwis’ victories one batter – Devon Conway in the first, Glenn Phillips in the second – has faced around half the balls in their innings, scored at around 1.6 runs a ball, and anchored the side to a decent total. At which point Trent Boult and Tim Southee have swung into action: they have gone at a miserly 4.62 and 2.91 runs per over respectively, and taken 10 wickets between them. The combination has been something in the region of T20 perfection.
On both occasions New Zealand have batted first, and their success after setting totals reflects a significant shift between this World Cup and the last. It has not taken teams long to cotton on: captains chose to bat first only 13 times in the UAE last year, compared with 17 times already this year – including all three of Sunday’s fixtures.
This phenomenon reached England early, and they have batted first in eight of their 11 victories in this format in 2022, compared with three out of 11 last year. But despite that, of the six occasions when Jos Buttler has won the toss, he has chosen to bat first just once. As with their pedestrian run chase against Ireland – Brook remarkably admitted on Sunday that, with England behind on DLS, rainclouds gathering and rain forecast, he was “just trying to take it deep” – it seems sometimes the truth can be a little slow to dawn on this side.
Aaron Finch, whose Australia side play Ireland on Monday, said: “What we’ve seen here is if you can put enough pressure on, if you can get a decent enough total and force teams to go hard against a quality bowling attack with a little bit of movement, it’s really difficult. Batting second you tend to back-end your innings. Batting first, you can probably be a little bit more freewheeling.”
It is a fascinating trend, upending T20 orthodoxy which suggests that knowing your target is a significant advantage. But teams batting first had mixed results on Sunday, with the Netherlands notably failing to capitalise – mainly because they only scored 91 for 9, a total Pakistan reached with more than six overs to spare.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe, Pakistan’s surprise conquerers in Perth last week, failed to chase Bangladesh’s total of 150 despite some late drama: Blessing Muzarabani had to score five off the last ball to win it for Zimbabwe and missed it completely, but the Bangladesh wicketkeeper, Nurul Hasan, collected it before it reached the stumps so it was declared a no-ball and Muzarabani had a second chance, this time needing only four. He missed that too.