The Twenty20 World Cup starts in Bangladesh today, and England officially start an international tournament without their mercurial genius, Kevin Pietersen. How will they fare?
(Picture: Eoin Morgan, England’s T20 captain, will be eager to prove his credentials and take England into the next chapter of limited-overs cricket.)
They sacked their most prolific T20 batsman, lost five of their last six games, and have one of the world’s most inexperienced sides. But England arrive in Bangladesh hoping to reverse their fortunes when the World T20 starts today.
This is the latest – and one of the most vital – tests for coach Ashley Giles, and the English Cricket Board, since the sacking of Kevin Pietersen earlier this year. T20 is unlike any other format of cricket in that in demands spectacular individual performances to secure victory.
And without Pietersen, who almost single-handedly won this competition for England in 2010, many are right to question where that will come from.
Enter then Eoin Morgan, the promising Irish-born captain who led England to a morale-boosting win against West Indies in Barbados last week. Up for the fight and untainted by brutal Ashes series decimation, his young team showed a couple of inspired performances that oozed potential.
Opener Michael Lumb carved a convincing 63 in Barbados, while Alex Hales chipped a useful 38. Chris Jordan smashed four bludgeoning sixes in the final over suggesting England has a dose of firepower.
Add to the mix the off-spinner James Tredwell, attempting to pick up where Graeme Swann left off, and many will hope this is the beginnings of a team capable of competing on the world stage.
Yet the odds are not in their favour. England are woefully behind the curve when it comes to T20 cricket. It is telling that, bar Pietersen, there are no English players in the Indian Premier League – despite many putting themselves up for auction.
Add to that cumulative pressure cooker of sub-continent cricket, with its dry spinning wickets and floodlights, and be under no illusion: for this young team, we are about to witness an unenviable baptism of fire.
World Cup competitions mean big-swinging batsman eager to punish English bowling. Faces like West Indies’ Chris Gayle, Australia’s David Warner, Sri Lankan Angelo Matthews and India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
In Pietersen, England had their own A-lister – even capable of outplaying them. But the ECB culled him, believing it would ultimately lead to a healthier team.
It is a decision that, when this tournament ends on April 6, they can safely expect to be judged by.