After the game had finished, the crowd filtered away and press duties were completed following England’s painful elimination from the T20 World Cup, Eoin Morgan climbed on to the team coach outside the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, sat down next to Chris Silverwood and started to talk about the next one.
With the merry-go-round still spinning in the United Arab Emirates it is only 11 months until England climb on board again. And though he is now 35 and this year has seen a precipitous decline in his returns with the bat, Morgan seems determined to cling on for the ride. The squad for the 2022 T20 World Cup will look very different to this one – should the five senior players who missed the defeat to New Zealand (and in some cases the entire tournament) through injury be selected, at least a third of the 15 that ended this competition will have to be left behind – but it will have the same figurehead.
“He’s a very strong leader for this group, has been for many years now, and I still think he’s got a lot of years in front of him that he can give to this team,” Silverwood said. “I think with him we’re a stronger unit, and for me the longer he’s there the better. He probably hasn’t got the runs he’d have wanted, but the value he brings as a leader outweighs that. That’s how I see it. What he brings to the team from a tactical point of view and a motivational point of view, I think he brings so much more than just the batting.”
But the key lesson of New Zealand’s narrow yet handsome victory on Wednesday is that even if there is no change in captain, the captain probably needs to change. At least in public England are insisting they got all their tactical decisions right, but in a game of small margins some marginal calls did not come off.
We knew before the tournament that England prefer to chase almost irrespective of conditions. Morgan has now captained England in 70 T20s, won the toss 36 times, and chosen to bat first on only eight occasions – and not once in the past five years. So it is no surprise that when they came to a World Cup where conditions have tended to favour the side batting second they have coped poorly with being put in.
“I don’t think it’s given us a lopsided approach,” Silverwood said. “We do like chasing, there’s no doubt about it. We are good at it and we enjoy it. When you’re chasing you know what your target is, you can pace yourself and know when to press the button. We’ve stuck to our strengths, stuck to our gameplan, and I’m perfectly happy with what we did.”
Perhaps, however, England might have sacrificed a few less important matches to better prepare for a hypothetical situation in which they lose the toss and must bat first in a crucial game, maybe even a World Cup semi-final. England were put in only twice in their six World Cup games, and the same criticism can be made of both innings: that time was wasted in the middle overs protecting wickets that, given the team’s batting-heavy lineup, did not require protection.
Against Sri Lanka Jos Buttler rescued the situation with a phenomenal late surge, but Moeen Ali faced only two balls and Liam Livingstone none at all. Against New Zealand there was no late surge and Sam Billings, drafted into the team after Jason Roy’s injury as the designated finisher, had less to do than in any of England’s previous games – and on those occasions he was only carrying drinks.
Meanwhile after Tymal Mills’s injury England went into matches with only one bowler recognised as a death-overs specialist in Chris Jordan. Throughout the tournament Chris Woakes has been a complete menace in the powerplay, but while his 17.3 overs in other phases of the game went at a miserly 5.4 runs each, opponents averaged 19 from his three at the death. England’s strategy resulted in spare batters kicking their heels on the touchlines while they ached for more bowling depth. “I’ve got no regrets at all. The approach we took got us to the top of the group and kept us there,” Silverwood said. “I think we’ve had plenty of bowling options.”
What England did have was a group of players that went into a World Cup semi-final as favourites, and very nearly won it, while significantly depleted by injury. “To get here without some of those players does show the talent we have, which is very encouraging,” Silverwood said. “At the same time we’ve got a group of lads that’s hurting. To get so close, touching distance, and then have it snatched away – we had the game under control for a lot of the time, then Jimmy Neesham came in and took it away from us. We’ve got to give them credit, but as players and coaching staff you wonder what you could have done differently.”
The question is what they will do differently in future. At least there is not long to wait before we find out.