Despite Kevin Pietersen's absence, the defending champions have a balanced look about them
England has never previously approached a global event as the defending champion, so it will find itself in uncharted territory when the ICC World Twenty20 2012 begins on September 18.
England ended its barren run on the world stage by outclassing Australia in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2010 in the West Indies. It was a victory fashioned by the sustained brilliance of Kevin Pietersen, under the captaincy of Paul Collingwood.
Neither man will be around to spearhead the challenge this time around, Collingwood considered superfluous to England’s international plans and Pietersen left out following a dispute with the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Victory in the previous edition helped England tick one of several empty boxes. Despite having given the world the Twenty20 format, England hadn’t advanced to the knockout stages in the first two editions of the ICC World Twenty20, but rode on the momentum provided by Pietersen and an assortment of Twenty20 specialists to go all the way in the Caribbean.
There have been personnel changes since, as is to be expected. The biggest names missing from the 2010 squad are obviously Pietersen and Collingwood, though the core group remains unchanged with Craig Kieswetter, Eoin Morgan and Luke Wright key members of the batting unit and Stuart Broad, the Twenty20 captain, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann around to spearhead the bowling attack.
England has a settled, balanced look about it despite the absence of Pietersen. The emergence of Alex Hales at the top of the order and the exciting promise of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler with the bat is matched by the potential that Danny Briggs’ left-arm spin, Steven Finn’s pace and Jade Dernbach’s variations bring with them.
England’s recent Twenty20 form has been encouraging, and its lead-up to the ICC World Twenty20 perfect with a tough three-match series against South Africa, which ended 1-1 with one match abandoned. England, which boasts a 25-20 win-loss record in 48 Twenty20 Internationals, will need to bring its top game to the table right from the group stages, where it will run into India, the ICC World Twenty20 2007 champions, and Afghanistan, who came through the qualifying competition.
With two teams from each group advancing to the Super Eights, England should fancy itself to progress from Group A. Spin is expected to play a vital role as the tournament progresses, and England should welcome the run out against India, which has packed its squad with three specialist spinners and several more of the part-time variety. How well the English top order tackles India’s spinners will be watched keenly by other sides determined to knock the holder off its perch.
England’s spin cupboard is far from bare, even if it perhaps doesn’t possess the same air of intimidation as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or even the West Indies, fortified by the emergence of Sunil Narine.
Swann is an experienced campaigner, who is among the best purveyors of his offspin craft, while Briggs is a canny left-arm spinner whose forte is accuracy and discipline. Samit Patel has come to establish himself as an all-round presence with his left-arm spin and hard-hitting batting in the lower middle-order; like most teams, England have several all-round options to fall back on, because such are the demands of the Twenty20 game that teams can ill-afford to have more than just the odd specialist.
England is coming off a long season of international cricket at home, in conditions far different from what it will encounter in Sri Lanka. Adaptability will be the key – not just to pitches vastly different in character, but also to the heat and humidity that are reasonably alien to a majority of the young English side.