x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The flowering of a team

The players have expressed themselves better since the recruitment of Zimbabwe's Andy Flower, who was solid and reassuring in Tests and brisk and innovative in one-dayers.

England's Michael Yardy jumps to field a high throw as Australia's David Hussey takes a run during yesterday's final.
England's Michael Yardy jumps to field a high throw as Australia's David Hussey takes a run during yesterday's final.

Having failed to go beyond the Super Eight stage in previous World Twenty20 tournaments, England were not among the favourites to win the trophy in the Caribbean. But after an opening-round match in Guyana when rain and Duckworth-Lewis skewed the equation hopelessly in favour of the West Indies, they have quietly metamorphosed into a side every bit as efficient and ruthless as Australia.

What changed, especially for a side that has been poor in the limited-over arena since making the World Cup final in 1992? Even in the Duncan Fletcher years, when English cricket was resurrected in the Test arena, one-day successes were few. The best decision English cricket made, after the fiascos of the Peter Moores era, was to appoint Andy Flower team director, the fancy term for coach. Flower may not have won trophies with Zimbabwe, but he was one of the great batsman of his generation - solid and reassuring in Tests and brisk and innovative in one-dayers.

The England team of today is no longer constrained by the self-imposed limits of the past. Flower has encouraged individual expression, and been hard on those he felt were not pulling in the same direction. In the Caribbean, they reaped the rewards of continuity. Jimmy Anderson stayed on the bench, with Tim Bresnan's bustling fast-medium preferred, and Ravi Bopara came in only when Kevin Pietersen went home for the birth of his child. At the top, Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb were given the freedom to flail, even if they did not always come off.

That faith in key performers was especially evident in the bowling, with only two overs bowled by the non-specialists right through the competition. Even when Luke Wright scalped the dangerous Cameron White in an over where only five runs were conceded, Paul Collingwood was not tempted to alter the script in the final. The next over from that end went to Bresnan. Graeme Swann, now the best offspinner in the world by a distance, bowled a fabulous spell (1-17) and the height of Stuart Broad and the left-arm angles of Ryan Sidebottom gave Australia two contrasting challenges that they never really mastered.

Even Michael Yardy, as innocuous a left-arm spinner as you will ever see, was tidy but for a 21-run over when David Hussey and White took a shine to him. Australia may have taken 88 from the final eight overs, but by then they were already playing catch-up. Having lost a World Cup final to the West Indies when one-day cricket was still in its infancy, it was perhaps fitting that England's modern generation came of age at Bridgetown, Barbados, a venue that is the heart and soul of cricket in the Caribbean.

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