Dubai: It will be like carrying on from where they had left off in the T20 World Cup final in Kolkata five years back when holders West Indies and England clash in their respective Group A opening game at the Dubai International Stadium on Saturday evening. While the Caribbeans will want to get into a winning start in what’s a tricky group, Eoin Morgan’s men will look for redemption after messing up in the final over on the last occasion.
Yes, the West Indies may not have Carlos Brathwaite, the giant allrounder who hits those four sixes in their ranks this time - but it’s largely their old guard who will be at the helm of their campaign this time. Captain Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle form the core of a team packed with match-winners in their own rights, though their task will not be easy against an in-form England side which has grown more adept in the T20 format with their players integrating into the Indian Premier League in the last five years.
The warm-up matches have produced contrasting results for the teams with England losing against India even though their batters did a decent job but then regrouped quickly to beat the Kiwis in a close game. West Indies, on the other hand, looked somewhat undercooked during defeats against both Afghanistan and Pakistan - though warm-up games may not often be the right pointer to their form in the tournament.
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Morgan & Co, who have won nine of their last 11 bi-lateral T20 series in the run-up to the league, have proven white ball experts on their roster now in vice-captain Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Dawid Malan (still No.1 ranked in ICC T20 rankings), Jonny Bairstow and spinning allrounders in the experienced Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone. The latter could provide an X-factor in England’s campaign this time with a combination of power hitting and leg spin bowling - something which can keep Adel Rashid out of the squad.
The worrying factor for them had been the batting from of Morgan, the man who is credited with developing the fearless England with help from Andrew Strauss in his role as the erstwhile Director of England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB). He was, unfortunately, one of the weak links in the middle order of Kolkata Knight Riders during their recent IPL campaign - while the 50-overs World Cup winning captain has gone on record saying that he is even ready to sacrificing his place in the squad if it helps the team.
For West Indies, the batting form of Gayle and Nicholas Pooran in the IPL had been a point of concern. The latter has failed to live up to the reputation of being the next big thing in their batting line-up even as his franchise Punjab Kings gave him the long rope. Shimron Hetmyer, on the other hand, had been hitting the ball well and should take up a bigger responsibility along with anchorman Roston Chase.
Another slight worry could be the spin department, which is shorn of experience after Sunil Narine was omitted from the squad despite his stellar showing for Kolkata in the IPL.
Hence, it could be England’s match to lose but then - history tells us that you can write off the West Indies at your own peril.