Two of the three most recent winners of the World T20 go head to head in a tantalising showdown at the Wankhede, and picking a winner is rather like guessing which side of bed either team plans on getting up. The fact that no side has yet won any of the five tournaments on more than one occasion points to the unknowable nature of the format itself, but in the case of these two teams, the turmoil they have endured in the intervening years has rather precluded any sort of coherent challenge.
England have been to the brink and back, their credentials stripped bare in a brace of ignominious campaigns in 2012 and 2014, over which the banishment of Kevin Pietersen loomed uncomfortably large. West Indies, by contrast, would be delighted to have had their own troubles so concentrated on a single character. Contractual disputes have been a constant companion in recent years – the squad came close to a full-blown strike on the eve of this competition – and yet, here they are, both sides on the starting line with their engines running and opportunity knocking.
Of the two, West Indies look the likeliest to go the distance, simply because of their greater experience, both of Asian conditions and of previous victory in the World T20. Whereas Eoin Morgan is the last man standing from England’s 2010 campaign, no fewer than eight survivors from West Indies’ triumph over Sri Lanka four years ago are back for more.
With eight squad members over the age of 30, West Indies are longer in the tooth and in many cases facing the final curtain – a legend though Chris Gayle remains, it is hard to imagine him turning out for the 2020 event at the age of 40 – which merely reinforces that sense of now or never.
England, by contrast, are at the start of their own journey. They’ve had several aborted rebuilds in one-day cricket in recent years, but there’s a strategy and coherence to this particular regeneration that augurs very well for the future. Of their 15, only Liam Plunkett has so far reached the big 3-0. Nine of the squad have yet to turn 26.
Morgan spent much of his pre-match press conference playing down his team’s chances and keeping his cards tucked tightly to his chest. Darren Sammy, by contrast, wasn’t afraid to big up his big men, and why would he hide their lights under a bushel given the fear factor they can bring to any contest? Gayle, he declared, is “one of the most destructive T20 batsman”, but it wasn’t anything other than a stone-cold fact. On Wednesday night, under the lights, we shall witness a battle of reputation versus potential. And there can be only one winner.
England: LLWWW (last five completed matches)
West Indies: WLLWW
Watch out for
Chris Gayle. Who else? Everything about this contest screams for a tour de force from the man who epitomises above all others the hopes, the talents and the frustrations of West Indies cricket in the 21st century. This contest will be Gayle’s first full international appearance since the 50-over World Cup 12 months ago, and his first T20 outing since he spanked South Africa for 90 in 41 balls at Johannesburg in January 2015. But the prodigal son is back for more, and back in a country where his legend precedes him. Gayle has been the heart and soul of the IPL since its inception, and assuming the local population have found a means to secure any tickets, you can be sure who they will be rooting for when the first ball is sent his way.
Gayle may be an established local hero but Jos Buttler could yet be the coming man and, if that is the case, then the Wankhede will soon feel like his second home, following his signing for Mumbai Indians in the recent IPL auction. His casual ability to ally supreme power to outlandish shot selection has turned him into the flagbearer for England’s new free-spirited attitude to one-day cricket, and though he was scuppered in the end by Chris Jordan’s yorkers during England’s practice match at the Brabourne on Monday, his 25 from 16 balls while guesting for Mumbai was a hint that he has found his range. “Everyone’s worried by Jos when he gets going,” said Joe Root after that innings.
England’s XI is more or less straightforward. Ben Stokes provides the all-round flexibility to factor in four seamers and both spinners, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. With Chris Jordan’s death bowling and outstanding fielding securing him a berth, the only real debate is whether the extra grunt of Liam Plunkett is preferable to the left-arm attack of David Willey. Morgan refused to be drawn, but Willey’s hat-trick at the death in Monday’s warm-up may have tilted the scales in his favour.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Jos Buttler, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 David Willey, 10 Chris Jordan, 11 Reece Topley
West Indies have all-round options pouring out of their squad, and any batsman from No. 4 to No. 9 could prove to be interchangeable depending on the match situation. The likelihood is that all eight of West Indies’ previous World T20 winners will be given the chance to start the campaign, although with only one spinner likely to make the cut, Samuel Badree could conceivably make way for Sulieman Benn, having failed to play in either of West Indies’ warm-ups.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Marlon Samuels, 4 Dwayne Bravo, 5 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Carlos Braithwaite, 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Jason Holder, 10 Samuel Badree/Sulieman Benn, 11 Jerome Taylor.
Pitch and conditions
The wicket is one of the seamier in the subcontinent, and both teams look set to respond in kind with pace options. A day out from the contest, there was still plenty grass in situ, although the baking 37C degree heat may put paid to some of that by game time.
Stats and trivia
- England have not played West Indies in T20 cricket since a three-match series in Barbados on the eve of the last tournament in March 2014. England lost 2-1 but they did win the last of the three encounters, by five runs, thanks to Chris Jordan’s haul of 3 for 39.
- That contest, however, is now better remembered for Ben Stokes’ reaction to his first-ball duck. He was bowled by Krishmar Santokie to complete a dismal sequence of scores – 5, 4, 0, 4 and 0 – and on returning to the dressing room, Stokes punched his locker, broke his wrist, and ruled himself out of the World T20 in Bangledesh.
“I look at our lower order and it always makes me smile.”
West Indies captain Darren Sammy is itching to unleash his big hitters once again
“We’ve played a lot more positive cricket, we haven’t been afraid to go out and play with no consequences.”
England captain Eoin Morgan pinpoints the reasons for England’s upturn in one-day fortune
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket