Phil Salt and captain Jos Buttler
England’s Phil Salt (left) and captain Jos Buttler during the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup Group B cricket match against Australia at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 8, 2024. Australia won by 36 runs. Image Credit: AFP

What has happened to England? The double world champions of 2022 are in a soup. First, they surrendered the ODI World Cup in 2023, failing to make the knockout phase. Now, the defending champions are at risk of stumbling at the first hurdle in the T20 Cricket World Cup.

How did that come about? The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super 8s, and England’s chances are in jeopardy. They are not entirely to blame. A washed-out match forced them to split points with Scotland, and Saturday’s loss to Australia exacerbated the situation. They are now in danger of crashing out of the tournament.

Well, the situation is not so grim. Jos Buttler’s team can salvage it with big wins over Namibia and Oman to leapfrog over Scotland on run rate. A Scotland defeat to Oman will also help. It will allow England to finish second in Group B behind Australia and progress to the next round. That’s in the belief that Australia will outwit Scotland and Namibia. An unlikely loss for Australia will also favour England.

With one point from two matches, England are certainly looking down the barrel. They have a brilliant set of batsmen to win the next two fixtures with good run rates.

Why the powerplay is critical

Under Eoin Morgan’s leadership, England set the template for batting in white-ball cricket, blazing away from the start. India used to do that when openers Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Virender Sehwag were around. England formalised it as a tactic, which they took to the Tests in the name of Bazball with the arrival of coach Brendon McCullum.

Other teams like India and Australia are now employing it successfully. That’s precisely what Australia did in Bridgetown, Barbados. Gary Sobers, the cricket’s greatest allrounder, must have enjoyed watching David Warner (39 runs in 16 balls) and Travis Head (34 in 18) plunder 70 runs in five overs to set up Australia’s 201, the biggest total of the tournament in the United States and West Indies.

England’s pursuit started well with Buttler (42 in 28) and Phil Salt (37 in 23) blasting 73 in seven overs only to lose steam after Australian legspinner Adam Zampa dismissed the openers. Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow disappointed, while Moeen Ali’s brave knock (25 in 15) was not enough to keep up with the required run rate. Scoreboard pressure did the rest.

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England will take heart from Jofra Archer’s bowling. He’s close to his best after recovering from a series of injuries. The rest of the bowlers will have to step up if England are to keep their title defence alive. Chris Jordan’s selection seemed defensive; it showed a lack of trust in the batsmen. Reece Topley’s left-arm swing could make early inroads in the powerplay.

I expect England to make the cut. They are one of the favourites in my book simply because they are a side bristling with talent. That’s not enough to win tournaments, which don’t afford second chances. So, the pressure is higher, and surmounting it will require steely determination and a hunger to win.

Australia have that in plenty. It was on display in their encounter with the archrivals after a tepid win over Oman. But then, that’s how the Baggy Greens do it. They bring their best game to the matches that matter. The England match was one. Buttler’s team could take a leaf out of Australia’s book. It’s a winning move.