How England launched a white-ball revolution

03 April 2016
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From World Cup exit to World T20 finalists, the rise of England's limited overs side has been swift

On 9 March 2015, England lost to Bangladesh in the World Cup.

Following on from defeats to Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka – all thrashings – it meant England suffered the ignominy of elimination in the group stages of a tournament whose very structure seemed designed to prevent cricketing heavyweights being eliminated before the knockout stages. 

One year on, and England are in Kolkata preparing for the WT20 final.

Preview: All you need to know for the WT20 final

At the heart of the transformation has been Eoin Morgan. He has stressed the need for a young and uninhibited side, unrelenting in their determination to play fearless cricket, and that is what he has got.

If the effect is most notable with the bat, Morgan has extended attacking intent to England’s bowling. He has been far more supportive of spin than any England captain for many years, as evidenced by Adil Rashid’s transformation from spare part to strike bowler, and entrusted Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes with the responsibility of bowling at the death, a task they have embraced magnificently, as in only conceding 20 runs from the last four overs against New Zealand.

WATCH: Ben stokes England's fire

For all the sterling work done by Morgan, his old Middlesex and England teammate Andrew Strauss has perhaps been almost as significant.

Last May, Strauss succeeded Paul Downton as managing director of England Cricket. Rather than prioritise Test cricket, Strauss made clear his intent to lift up England’s limited overs cricket after the debris of the World Cup. So he promptly sacked Peter Moores, who suffered the ignominy of finding out his fate after the Twitterati, and begun the search for a coach who could lead England in the 2016 World Twenty20, the 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup, the latter two events in England.

He recognised Trevor Bayliss to be the outstanding candidate for his prowess in white-ball cricket.

It was no coincidence that England’s limited overs transformation begun against New Zealand. The performance of the Kiwis in one-day cricket, particularly in the World Cup, had imposed upon the side a sense of what could be achieved with fearless cricket – and how far away England were from producing it.

"We talked about emulating what Australia and New Zealand did at that World Cup," Morgan said recently.

"From where we were to where they were, we were miles away. In order to bridge the gap we had to try and emulate the fashion in which they played and the aggressive nature in which they went about their game and particularly with the ball."

WATCH: England, Windies prepare for WT20 final

The ODI series against New Zealand arrived before Bayliss had taken charge. But Paul Farbrace, the coach for that series before reverting back to his preferred role as number two, worked to create a dressing room in which the players could play without fear.

And he found that England had the players to do so.

In Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, with Joe Root scoring rapidly through high-class orthodoxy, England suddenly had a batting line-up well versed in pyrotechnics. Now they did not have a set-up that stultified the better instincts of their players.

It was Morgan who led the way, slamming 322 runs at 64.40 apiece at a strike rate of 124.80. There could be no ambiguity about what he expected in this new limited overs era. Morgan had long been an outlier in England’s limited overs set-up; now he was simply one of a kind.

England have been fortunate to have such a coterie of explosive batsmen, yet all of the top six now thriving in India had played international cricket before the 2015 World Cup.

There is an instructive comparison to be made between Roy and Alistair Brown, two explosive and erratic Surrey right-handers with a strut. Both came in after World Cups had exposed how far England had been left behind – Brown after the ascent of aggressive openers in the 1996 World Cup, Roy after the run-fest of 2015. 

In his first game, Brown scored 37: for his attempts to imbuing the top order with intent, he was branded a "clown". A duck followed next innings and then 118. But it would be 18 months until Brown’s next game, and he would be restricted to 16 ODIs over five years.

WATCH: England thrash NZ to reach WT20 final

Last June, Roy slapped the first ball England had faced since the World Cup straight to the man at backward point, and did not pass 40 in the five ODIs against New Zealand. But England recognised in him a rare talent who embodied how they wanted to play. Now, the whole world can see it.

Quick Single: England boosted by varying conditions

The cultural shift in England’s limited overs team has come strikingly late. As a new book by Peter Miller and Dave Tickner details, every England World Cup campaign since 1992, with the exception of 2003, has been a shambles in cricketing terms.

Even when England won the 2010 WT20, it was a victory for happenstance over long-term planning.

Six weeks before the tournament began, England were opening with Joe Denly and Jonathan Trott. They only stumbled across opening pair of Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb after the senior team lost to the England Lions in a warm-up match.

This time feels different.

England’s performances have embodied how Morgan and Strauss want the side to play, and neither has any time for conservatism.

With a young side gaining experience while remaining unshackled, the sense is palpable that, whatever happens against the West Indies, the best of England in limited overs cricket should be yet to come.