What England learnt from the group stage and how they can defend their T20 World Cup title

Jos Buttler’s England scraped through to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Super Eight stage after a group campaign that saw them learn plenty about their squad and strategy.

By Carrie Dunn and Tom Bennett

The defending Champions face West Indies, South Africa and USA in a stacked Group 2 in the Super Eights, and we take a look at four key issues for England that they should be considering if they're going to retain their crown:

Finding a groove against spin

England’s most concerning moment of their group stage run came during the middle overs of the defeat to Australia.

Faced with a sizeable chase, England were slightly behind after the powerplay but still firmly in contention when Australia turned to spin.

But England’s strategy of picking four openers at the top of the order came undone against the slower bowling of Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell, with Phil Salt and Jos Buttler soon dismissed before both Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow ground to a halt, sending the required run rate soaring to near-unreachable levels.

Jacks’ run-a-ball 10 was a struggle, but it was Bairstow’s 13-ball 7 that put the nail in England’s coffin. Nine of those 13 deliveries were against spin, with England seeming to look for Bairstow to target Zampa in particular to the short boundary, with no success.

That slow-down left England with virtually no chance in their run chase, and they will be keen to see Jacks and Bairstow find some touch against spin with an eye on plenty of similar challenges to come through the Super Eight and potentially beyond.

One possible solution could be to push Moeen Ali up the order earlier in a similar match scenario, as he often does for franchise teams around the world.

Moeen was the one England batter who was able to score heavily against Australia’s spin in that group defeat, hitting 21 off the 10 deliveries he faced from Zampa and Maxwell, and he has consistently ranked as one of the more destructive hitters of spin in this format at franchise level.

The Jonny Bairstow 'problem'

Even aside from his struggles against Australia, it's been a torrid time for Jonny Bairstow, who has dealt with plenty of flak from fans and journalists alike for a relatively poor run of form.

He's amassed only 95 runs in T20Is thus far this year - fewer than in any calendar year since 2018 - but he did help to get the job done against Namibia with a knock of 31 from 18, and that was despite clearly knowing he was under the microscope from external observers, as he detailed in his press conference. Maybe that signals a change of fortune for him.

Certainly he should take significant confidence from his captain and coach's combined faith. A renewed and revitalised Bairstow would be a massive boost for England as they go into this next phase of matches.

Settling on the No. 8 selection

England have one significant selection decision to make in the Super Eight – who to pick as the third pace bowler and No. 8 batter.

England began their campaign with a selection strategy that seemed to be based on picking two of Jofra Archer, Reece Topley and Mark Wood, with Topley the bowler to miss out as the team opted for extra pace against Scotland and Australia.

But the second half of their group fixtures saw Topley state his case for deserving a permanent spot in the XI, leaving England with a decision to make on their third seamer.

Chris Jordan’s excellence in all three aspects of the game in franchise competitions over the last year saw him get the nod over Sam Curran as the third seamer at the start of England’s campaign, bringing death bowling specialism along power-hitting quality down the order with the bat.

But while Jordan was strong at the death against Australia, he has been expensive overall with the ball and has yet to be of use with the bat.

The second option would be Sam Curran, who came in for the shortened game against Namibia and bowled well, pushing for a selection instead of Jordan as the death-over specialist.

Curran was the Player of the Tournament when England won the last ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, but those performances came on bigger grounds which suited his style of bowling. Could the smaller Caribbean venues be a problem for him, as they were in England’s tour in 2023?

Curran’s batting also doesn’t quite offer the power of Jordan but would maintain England’s preference for a long batting line-up, and would also offer a left-handed batting option to a team stacked with right handers. He could alternatively be considered as cover for Liam Livingstone at No. 7 should England’s spinning all-rounder not be fit for the Super Eights.

England’s third option could be to opt for the balance they picked against Oman, sacrificing that bit of batting depth to pick Mark Wood along with Topley and Archer.

That would front-load England’s attack and would see them find room for their three best bowling operators, with Wood and Archer also capable of swinging the bat lower down the order.

It could leave the attack slightly light of options for the death overs, meaning early wickets would be key, but England may consider that to be a risk worth taking.

Scotland made 90/0 in a rain-shortened 10-over innings, but the game in Barbados was abandoned after further rain.

Crossing their fingers for better weather

You can control a lot of things during a T20 world Cup campaign, but you can't fight Mother Nature. England found themselves frustrated by rain repeatedly over the course of the group stages, with their opener against Scotland abandoned, and their crucial clash with Namibia truncated due to the conditions.

Buttler and his team also had similar problems back at home in their warm-up matches against Pakistan, meaning they arrived with fewer on-field minutes under their belts as a squad than they would have liked.

As they go into the Super Eights, they know - if they needed reminding - they can't rely on a helping hand from the weather - and the conditions can be variable, needing flexibility and adaptability.

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