THE question that Shane Warne has raised after England’s impressive success in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 in Barbados focuses on The Ashes next winter. The Australians might have to play very well to win that Test series, and one might add ‘especially while Andy Flower is in charge’.
The problem for England is that perhaps only four of Paul Collingwood’s 20-over side are certainties for the Test team — Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad. As Australia could only count on a couple more than that for the longer format, predicting the fate of The Ashes is difficult.
Warne, writing in the Daily Telegraph , noted that the England mindset had changed from ‘hoping’ to win if they played their best. “Now they think ‘we can beat this lot’. That feeling of being scared of playing Australia has disappeared,” he said.
There is no guarantee that the winning psychology can transfer to Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and company when they resume their stations in Test cricket, with Strauss as captain again. England’s record in Australia for more than 20 years has been lamentable.
However, the look of fear and desperation on the Australian faces as England’s batsmen faced them down in the Twenty20 final was intriguing. Craig Kieswetter and Kevin Pietersen were absolutely superb as they ‘grafted’ the hard yards to set up a comfortable finish. The Australian fast-bowling strategy, led by Shaun Tait, required intense concentration to combat.
Kieswetter and Pietersen picked them off with twos and singles and occasional boundaries until they felt comfortable enough to move through the gears towards a seven-wicket win with three overs to spare. It was a thrashing that exposed Australia’s one-dimensional approach. They had no plan B.
Graeme Swann, praised by Warne as the world’s No 1 spinner — an accolade bestowed long ago by these pages — gave England a distinct edge as Australia struggled with the bat. There is every reason for England to expect to win the World Cup on the subcontinent next year.
England’s management has been guilty of not quashing the Pietersen stardom syndrome that the media like to feed on. In the past there has been too much ‘serious blow to our hopes’ talk when the South African has been unavailable. That would be my only mild criticism of Flower, the national coach, who is a refreshing influence in so many ways.
Flower’s years of playing for Zimbabwe, where international players mingle with supporters in bars as a matter of course like normal cricketers, has equipped this articulate son of a schoolteacher with patience, honesty and an endearing humility. I noticed this when chatting to him in Harare Sports Club long before he became the world No 1 batsman. These qualities will almost certainly have rubbed off on to his England charges, even KP.
Though a top-notch batsman, Pietersen was barely missed during the 2009 Ashes victory in England. He was man of the series in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, but this format allows no individual to carry a team, because bowling is too important. England could cope without Pietersen if they had to, with Ravi Bopara waiting in the wings. And was Andrew Flintoff missed? Not at all, though he is a great bloke.
England: Michael Lumb, Craig Kieswetter, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan, Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan, Michael Yardy, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom.
ICC World Twenty20 final (Barbados)
Australia 147-9 (20 overs; David Hussey 59, Graeme Swann 4-0-17-1)
England 148-3 (17 overs; Craig Kieswetter 63, Kevin Pietersen 47 off 31 balls).
England won by 7 wickets