Eng vs WI – 2nd T20I

Two months after England lost an unbeaten game to New Zealand in their T20 World Cup semi-final, they came close to losing another. As the wheels came loose in the closing stages of their eventual one-point win over West Indies in the second T20I in Barbados on Sunday night, there was one simple conclusion to draw: England have a deadly bowling problem.
In November, New Zealand needed 57 to win the last four overs in Abu Dhabi, an equation no batting team had solved in international T20 history. They took him down with an over to spare, with Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes put to the sword by Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell.
In Bridgetown, West Indies were left 61 from 18 with two wickets in hand after collapsing mid-innings, a tally that has only been reached once in the last three overs of a T20 international and never in a chase. They missed two runs and could rightly feel aggrieved by an umpire’s ruling: Akeal Hosein – who hit 44 pitches on 16 balls, a record for a No. 10 batter – was appalled to see a full ball and wide of Saqib Mahmood famous for having crossed it inside the tram lines.
The 59 runs from the last three overs were the most conceded by England in this phase, achieved by India – and principally Yuvraj Singh – in Durban almost 15 years ago. Mahmood appeared to suffer from the same stage fright that afflicted Stuart Broad that night as he missed yorker after yorker and was hit on the short leg side boundary.

Jordan’s over, the 18th, was eerily reminiscent of the 17th in the semi-finals – not least because it cost the same number of runs, 23. With one boundary significantly shorter than the other, he planned accordingly and hit the ball in court over a good length; Hosein (over cover) and Romario Shepherd (twice, over midwicket) responded by dragging him for six over the bigger limit.

For Mahmood, the gap in boundary sizes again informed his plan to play full and wide outside the Hosein stump. But after his first ball was given as a wide and his second narrowly escaped the same fate, he lost his temper: Hosein hit consecutive boundaries either side of long-on, didn’t managed to hit another wide, then slammed three sixes to leave the West Indies two is short of his target.

“Every team in the world is trying to improve,” said England captain Eoin Morgan. “That’s the toughest job in T20 cricket, the bowling of death. Conditions got a bit better towards the end – the ball skidded unlike our innings in the first innings – but in the end we have to find better ways to Our execution was nowhere near as good as we would have liked.

The inevitable question has been asked: why don’t England try to beat Yorkers? “We are, we’re just wrong,” Morgan conceded. “Most of our plan today was to play yorkers, use the long side, and we missed. That’s being brutally honest. Guys are always honest with the execution in order to try and get through to something else. [and to] identify areas where we can improve – this is definitely one of them.

“These are games you want to play. Looking at the construction in the [2021] World Cup, we haven’t played a lot of close games to work on our kill strikes and ball kills, so today is a good example of that. Hopefully the more experience we have, the better we will be able to execute.”

“It’s the toughest job in T20 cricket, the bowling of death.”

Eoin Morgan

The only bowler to escape with both digits and dignity intact was Reece Topley – ironically, playing his first T20 international since being hammered to death by JP Duminy at the 2016 World Cup. used the dimensions in his plans, hanging the ball wide outside of Shepherd’s striking arc with a short leg-side boundary and angling the ball into the pads of southpaw Hosein. Basically, his execution was noticeably better, in keeping with a fine comeback down the side: he took 1 for 18 in his four overs, knocked down Nicholas Pooran and had an athletic run-out of his own bowling.

One of the men responsible for post-match analysis in the BT Sport studio, Tom Curran, was better placed than most to speak about England’s woes, having himself slipped down the pecking order after a tough few nights of death – although he would have played in this series but for a stress fracture suffered in the Big Bash League.

“It was interesting to hear Morgs say they were all going for the Yorkers,” he said. “I think most of the time what we’ve talked about over the last year is actually the value of hard, heavy balls on death.

“The Yorkers are funny. You can nail them in practice, but when you get to the middle it’s hard to describe – it’s really a ‘feel’ thing for a bowler. You can find one early of your fate and take your radar; the other days you will have a hard time.”

In the long run, the Hundred should help England’s bowling depth of death by exposing young players to tough situations at the end of an innings. But in his first season, three of the top five regular death bowlers were foreign recruits (Adam Milne, Lockie Ferguson and Marchant de Lange) and the two domestic players (Jordan and Tymal Mills) are already in the England setup.

It should serve as consolation for England that their first-choice death bowlers Mills and Jofra Archer were only spectators in Barbados due to rotation and injury respectively, and as the showed Mitchell Starc and Shaheen Shah Afridi in the other World Cup semi-final even the best can have nights off.

But it was still a trying night for Jordan and Mahmood. Morgan often says he wants England to be ruthless in white-ball cricket; over the past 12 months, their death bowlers have been anything but.

Matt Roller is associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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