‘If pressure is a privilege, England are about to feel very lucky’

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If pressure is a privilege, the England white-ball team are about to feel very lucky.

Seriously under the pump after their shambolic surrender of the 50-over World Cup last year, the England hierarchy will meet early next week to pick a squad for the defence of their T20 title in the Caribbean and United States in June.

Anything like a repeat of the debacle in India is likely to have serious consequences for at least one of captain Jos Buttler and coach Matthew Mott, leaving managing director Rob Key with the most difficult decision of his two years in charge. A semi-final is the minimum requirement.

England are still a very good white-ball team, albeit one in transition. Whether or not Buttler and Mott are the ones to mould the next generation depends on what happens next.

The captain and coach can rightly point to a shift in the priorities of the English game. Test cricket is king again, as shown by Ben Stokes skipping this World Cup to get himself back to full fitness for the home summer. England rarely have a full-strength team outside of global tournaments.

But the good news is Buttler has refound his mojo at the South Africa T20 and the Indian Premier League. He will spearhead a powerful top order including Phil Salt, Will Jacks and Harry Brook. If it fires, England’s batting will be their super strength.

The decisions come lower down. Jonny Bairstow has spent so long in India this winter he is probably eligible to apply for citizenship. He is the only England player to take part in the World Cup, Test series and the IPL, where he has now been dropped by Punjab Kings. If he does go to the World Cup, Bairstow will have gone the best part of nine months away from home.

Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali are spin-bowling all-rounders for a tournament where slow bowling could be key. Rehan Ahmed has been in England’s T20 plans and Tom Hartley has impressed in Test cricket. Adil Rashid is ranked as the world’s number one T20 bowler and Jacks also gives an option with his off-breaks, but six spinners might be one too many.

Headlines will be dominated by Jofra Archer, who is said to be on track for inclusion after another year on the sidelines in his long battle against an elbow injury.

Archer is now 29 and England are being ultra-cautious with his rare talent, wary after perhaps rushing comebacks in the past. Even for a character as cool as Archer, playing in a World Cup for England in the place of his birth would be special, and his presence would make Buttler’s team a more complete package.

If Archer is named next week, it would be in our old friend the ‘provisional squad’, which is where England really do have to show they have learned from past mistakes.

The fiasco around the announcement of the 50-over squad, whether it was provisional or final, and the eventual axing of Jason Roy in favour of Brook, destabilised England before they boarded the plane to India. This time England have to be crystal clear in their messaging to both players and public.

It is expected that two sets of names will be released, one for the World Cup and one for the four T20s against Pakistan that begin on 22 May.

Players involved in the latter stages of the IPL will be allowed to stay in India, before reporting for at least part of the Pakistan series.

Buttler’s Rajasthan Royals are leading the group table and it can be argued the IPL is the best possible way to tune-up for a T20 World Cup, but the late arrival of the skipper will be another beating stick if it ultimately does not go well for England.

Speaking of arrivals, the last match of the Pakistan series, at The Oval, is only five days before England begin their World Cup campaign against Scotland in Barbados, repeating a late entry into India for the 50-over tournament.

Admittedly, plenty of teams are in the same situation because of the IPL, but it is a sub-optimal start.

One final and intriguing subplot will be the presence of Andrew Flintoff in England’s backroom team. Flintoff has been a regular feature of the white-ball set-up over the past year and has been anointed as a future England head coach by Key.

Clearly, it is a huge positive for England to have a man as talented and respected as Flintoff back in the game and he could turn out to be a superb leader. But someone with no prior top-level coaching experience has been rapidly promoted through the ranks – he has also been named head coach of the Northern Superchargers – and there is the dynamic of Mott working with a man that his boss has tipped for his job.

In contrast to the Test side, where Brendon McCullum runs a slimmed-down operation, the white-ball side will have plenty of coaching staff. Former West Indies captain Kieron Pollard has been enlisted for his local knowledge, something England felt they lacked in India, leading to decisions like fielding first in a Mumbai so hot the statues were sweating.

The only other time there was a men’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean, an England team thrown together at the last minute came home with the trophy. They were deserving winners 18 months ago in Australia and probably should have won the tournament the year before in the UAE.

England are currently the second-ranked T20 team in the world. In Buttler they possess an all-time great of the shortest format and could be on the verge of rediscovering Archer, once the best white-ball seamer on the planet. A kind draw in the second group stage makes the final four a strong possibility. After that, who knows.

Still, the pressure is on.

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