England's Joe Root (L) and Jos Buttler celebrate after winning the World T20 cricket tournament semi-final match between England and New Zealand at the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground in New Delhi on March 30, 2016. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
While West Indies and India were getting down to the nitty-gritty in a fascinating semi-final in Mumbai, England’s cricketers were cruising at altitude over the plains of Uttar Pradesh, oblivious to the swings in fortune that would ultimately decide the identity of their opponents in Sunday night’s World T20 final.
It wasn’t until England touched down at Kolkata airport and switched on their phones, after a two-hour flight from Delhi that had begun late in India’s Virat Kohli-powered innings, that they were able to track the final swings of Andre Russell’s bat that brought their campaign full-circle.
England, whose steady – even stealthy – progress through the gears has resulted in four wins on the bounce and a sense of serene optimism, must now overcome the only team to have got the better of them if they are to be crowned the World T20 champions for the second time in the competition’s nine-year history.
“We knew they [India] were on course for a big score when we set off and there was about an over and a bit left when we landed,” said Joe Root, whose tally of 195 runs in five innings is second only to Kohli for the Super 10s stage of the competition onwards.
“They must have played really well to get over the line, but we know how strong West Indies are as a side and we are going to have to play well to beat them as we’ve had to play well to beat everyone so far.”
England’s team will remain broadly the same, with Liam Plunkett’s displacement of Reece Topley the only anticipated change from the side that lined up at the Wankhede last month for their opening match of the tournament. However, the confidence and competence of England’s batsmen and bowlers are light years removed from the tentative pathfinders who ended up being walloped by the broadest of Chris Gayle’s bats.
And now, having had a day to digest the implications of their thrilling victory over New Zealand in Delhi, Root says England can’t wait to take centre stage at India’s most venerated venue.
“You can’t beat it,” he said. “You dream of these opportunities as a kid to play a World Cup final. Every time over the past couple of days I’ve looked round the dressing room or the lads on the bus, they have just been smiling, so I think everyone is excited and can’t wait to get out there on Sunday.”
In keeping with most of the squad, Root has never before played a match at Eden Gardens – notably, 10 of the England players in this tournament had never played a single international fixture in the country.
However, Root was 12th man during one of England’s most remarkable Test wins in recent memory – the seven-wicket victory in 2012-13 that enabled Alastair Cook’s men to claim the series 2-1. With that nugget of reconnaissance under his belt, he said he was unfazed by the prospect of fronting up for the final.
“Every game here so far has been rocking, so let’s hope it will be on Sunday,” he said. Though it was put to him that the mood in the city may be a touch muted, following the tragic collapse of a flyover in Kolkata this week, Root – who had been unaware of the news – hoped that his team could help to revive a few spirits.
“India’s a fantastic country, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of support at this wonderful ground,” he said. “We want to make sure that it’s a very entertaining spectacle and that we’re on the right side of that on Sunday.”
The other factor that is likely to impact on the atmosphere is, of course, India’s absence from the final itself. The likelihood is that this is good news for England – the prospect of performing in front of a pumped-up and partisan crowd might well have given the hosts that added sense of belief. Root, understandably, argued otherwise.”I don’t think it matters,” he said. “If you are going to win the World Cup you have to be the best team through the tournament. If we are going to win we are going to have to beat the side that beat us, but otherwise we would have had to have beaten India on home soil, so it’s irrelevant who we play.
“It’s about doing our stuff in practice leading up to it, then going out there and put on a really strong performance and doing everything we can to get over the line.”
That “stuff” that England have been doing has been serving them well enough so far, for the extent to which they have confounded most pre-tournament predictions is startling. Their record run chase against South Africa in Mumbai is cited as the moment that their campaign was kick-started – they chased 230 in a contest that could have effectively eliminated them there and then.
Root, however, insisted they had had no great epiphany on that remarkable night. Merely, they have stuck to their commitment to free-flowing, fearless cricket, and have reaped the rewards that have come from each new victory.
“We have stayed true to what we believe in as a side and the way we want to play cricket,” Root said. “That has been the most important thing for us, to ensure we did not go away from how we wanted to play and approach our cricket, and having that self-belief in each other meant we could get that win against South Africa and build confidence from that point onwards.
“The best thing is that everyone has contributed in some shape or form, which is always nice going into a final. If things aren’t going quite to plan, there are other guys you could call upon who might not normally do that job.”
As for England’s approach going into the final, Root said that they would be watching back the highlights of the match that they had missed while airborne. And when they have done so, they will doubtless note the manner of West Indies’ victory, which was achieved with batting tactics markedly different from their own.
Whereas Root himself has rocketed to the upper echelons of the run-scoring table by working the singles and avoiding dot balls, West Indies’ batsmen have been unafraid to stack up the blobs, safe in the knowledge that their hard-hitting players are be able to clear the ropes to keep their scoreboard moving. Case in point was the India game, in which a massive 146 of their 196 runs came in boundaries.
“If you do get a string of dot balls, it’s about finding ways to keep building them up and put them under more and more pressure,” Root said. “Obviously everyone has their own way of playing the game, we’ve got plenty of players that can play in a similar fashion to that. So more than anything, it’s been about being smart in the situation and making sure that you’re roughly aware of what they’re trying to do and you’ve got something in place to combat it.
“We’ve been winning games of cricket, which is really important leading up to a final,” he added. “We’ve found ourselves in a number of different situations, and we’ve overcome them. It means that whatever happens, we’ve been in that situation before in this tournament, and we’ve got experiences to call upon where we’ve been successful.
“That will stand us in really good stead, so I’m just looking forward to Sunday.”
2015 Kashmir Despatch