England missed a golden opportunity to seal a historic series win in India, but, more than the defeat, the Three Lions, heading into the WT20, will be concerned by how imbalanced their side is. The India series posed a plethora of questions, all of which will need immediate addressing.
D for Dawid; D for disappointing
Dawid Malan entered the series with a small asterisk next to his name and he will now fly back to England with its size having doubled now. What does the asterisk signify? “Unsure whether he is the man who should be batting at No.3, come the WT20.”
Whether Malan could keep up with the scoring rate and whether he could negate spin were the two doubts that existed prior to the series, and he rather gloriously failed at both. The southpaw finished with a SR of 120.32 - the lowest of any batsman in the series (min 50 runs) - and took just 31 off 39 balls versus the slower bowlers, whilst being dismissed by them thrice.
Now, that we are having this conversation in the first place might seem bizarre. As of this very moment, Malan is still the #1 ranked T20I batsman in the world and he did end the 5-match series as England’s second-highest run-getter. But the India series made it clear that England have one left-hander too many in the lineup. Stokes and Morgan are locks, and the only alternative for Curran is Moeen, leaving Malan as the only ‘choppable’ asset to draft in a right-hander to add better balance to the side.
Perhaps a match-winning ton in the decider might have put doubts to bed, but now, come summer, there will be questions surrounding Malan’s place in the side once again. And rightfully so.
What is the point of having Sam Curran in this side?
A remarkable IPL 2020 forced England’s hand in making Sam Curran a mainstay on the T20 side and since post IPL, the youngster has featured in each of the 8 T20Is England have played. And as we witnessed in the IPL, players like Curran can be worth their weight in gold in T20 cricket. There is just one problem, though - England simply have no idea how to get the best out of him.
Across the 5 T20Is against India, Curran just bowled a total of 10 overs and ended up finishing his quota of 4 overs just once. These are numbers not too uncommon for batting all-rounders. However, Curran also just batted thrice in the series and faced a total of just 13 deliveries; in the fifth T20I, he batted at #9, below both Jordan and Archer. To add to this, only once - in the 2nd T20I, where he bowled a wicket-maiden to Rahul - was he used with the new ball; in each of the four other games, the left-armer was used as the fifth and sixth bowling option.
This begs the question - what exactly is Curran’s role in the side? Is he a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder? If it’s the former, why did he never once bat above #7, and if it’s the latter, why did he end up bowling an average of just 2 overs per game? And in the case of the management seeing him as a pure bits-and-pieces impact player, would the side then be not better off with Moeen Ali, who not only is more experienced and a superior batsman, but also provides a second spinning option? Or, if Curran is only going to bowl two overs per game, would it not be better to dump more bowling responsibility on Stokes and pick a specialist batsman instead?
Chris Jordan’s decline is a genuine concern
On Saturday, Chris Jordan set an unwanted record: his 198 were the most runs conceded by a bowler in a bilateral series in T20I cricket. Across 5 uncharacteristic games in the series, Jordan leaked 10.51 runs per over and in all but one game, the speedster conceded 35 or more runs in his spell. But while it goes unsaid that these figures are no representation of how good a bowler the 32-year-old really is, a worrying developing pattern that suggests England should be wary of not putting all their eggs in the Jordan-shaped basket.
In 17 T20Is since the start of 2020, Jordan has now taken just 16 wickets at a pretty high ER of 9.58. But the concern doesn’t lie here. In these same games, the right-armer has leaked 10.48 runs per over at the death. The final five overs were also where he was mauled by India, as the Men in Blue, in the series, ended up scoring 114 runs off the 8.5 overs Jordan bowled between overs 15-20.
‘Lack of cricket’ was used as an excuse to brush Jordan’s rather underwhelming performance in the IPL, particularly in the first half, under the carpet, but his numbers across the past 18 months - both international and franchise level - suggest that the 32-year-old’s withering prowess at the death is a genuine cause for concern.
England are not blessed with too many ready-made death bowlers, and thus it would make sense to give Jordan a very long rope, but the Three Lions will need to ensure that they have a Plan B for Jordan’s role in the side, should things go further south for the Barbadian across these next few months.
Loss of faith in Moeen Ali is a concern - for more reason than one
After the drama that unfolded post the second Chennai Test, it was expected that Moeen Ali would play a significant part in the T20Is, if not feature in all five matches. But flabbergastingly, England ended up benching the 33-year-old for all five games, despite there being ample opportunity to fit him into the side. England and Morgan could publicly claim that they simply went with their strongest combination for all games, but, from the outside, it does look increasingly evident that the Three Lions have lost a considerable amount of faith in Moeen Ali.
The Three Lions have now benched the all-rounder for 8 T20Is in a row. While in South Africa one could make the argument that Curran’s seam and swing suited the conditions better, England’s decision to overlook Moeen for 5 games in the subcontinent simply belied logic and belief. In England’s defence, maybe this was always coming - in each of his last 6 T20Is, Moeen bowled just a solitary over and maybe the management did feel that the 33-year-old’s batting is no more as impactful and consistent as it once was, for it to warrant him a place in the side.
But, in that case, should England not be then grooming a second spinner? Rashid was the solitary spinner in the entirety of the India series and while the pitches being pace-friendly helped mask England’s flawed selection strategy - of going with a solitary spinner - it would be suicidal for them to use the same ploy come the WT20. Alienating Moeen - the second choice spinner - would have made sense had England groomed a second spinner, but now that they haven’t, the Three Lions are in serious danger of being over-reliant on Rashid in the shortest format.
The one-dimensionality in England’s bowling
Remarkably enough, England used just five specialist bowlers across the series and terrified India with a clear plan, which was to terrorize the batsmen with pace. It worked like a charm in two of the first three T20Is, where tremendous bounce and carry in the wicket rendered it difficult for the Indian batsmen to handle the pace of the English seamers. But as was evident in the fifth game, England’s one-dimensional plan to bamboozle opponents with pace will not just fall flat, but also backfire on flat decks that have no scope for the quicker bowlers. This was epitomized by the fact that Mark Wood - their best bowler in the series - was taken apart for 72 runs off his last 6 overs in the series, where the conditions were at their flattest.
Archer and Rashid are two men for all conditions but Jordan and Wood, on the other hand, have their limitations. While Jordan is not adept at operating in the powerplay, lack of variations means that Wood turns into a bowling machine when there is no purchase on the wicket. England were lucky to encounter two wickets that provided ample assistance for pacers, but that simply will not be the case come the WT20.
This means that Morgan will need to devise a Plan B for flat surfaces; raw pace simply won’t suffice. It could be utilizing a smart operator like a Reece Topley; it could be utilizing a Saqib Mahmood, or it could be throwing in a second spinner. But by relying purely on raw pace, England will fail far more than they will succeed.