Positives and issues for England before World Cup

England may be wondering what they have to do to catch a break.

Just as the Test side has been thrillingly shaken from its slump, the Twenty20 team, in a World Cup year, have lost another series.

Fans had hoped white-ball wobbles had been left behind in an era of the X-Factor and skinny jeans.

England can, quite rightly, say they were understrength for their 2-1 defeat against India. They could call it two bad days at the office under a new coach in Matthew Mott who only took charge two months ago. They came back well in the third T20 to earn victory too.

But this is their third series loss in five and second in succession. Beforehand they won seven out of eight, drawing the other one.

For so long England had a team that all-but picked itself.

Despite their consolation win at Trent Bridge, there are more question marks than certainties with the T20 World Cup opener just 97 days away.

Bring back the big guns

Let’s start with those certainties.

Despite a top score of 18 in the series, captain Jos Buttler will open the batting when England play Afghanistan in their World Cup opener in Perth on 22 October and will likely be partnered by Jason Roy, who has credit in the bank despite a return of 31 runs from 43 balls across three innings against India.

Liam Livingstone is one of the few guaranteed to keep his place

Jonny Bairstow will return to boost the middle order – his big-hitting was seen in the shortest format long before his recent red-ball run – while Adil Rashid, who missed the India series to take the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, will come back to fulfil his role as a world-class leg-spinner.

However, other than Liam Livingstone as the finisher and in all likelihood Dawid Malan at number three, there are few others who have their roles completely guaranteed.

Injuries to the quicks

The biggest positive in this series has been England’s fast bowling.

Richard Gleeson, who dismissed Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant in his first eight balls in international cricket, and Chris Jordan, who took eight wickets at an economy of 7.25, were the stand-outs.

Reece Topley was also excellent in the final match, taking three wickets and conceding only 22 runs in a game where 413 were scored.

But the first-choice attack remains unclear and there is a nagging sense that England are missing the quality needed to win a global title.

When fit they have that in Jofra Archer but he has not played for England since March 2021 because of elbow and now back injuries.

Despite Archer saying recently he hopes to be back bowling by September and is still targeting being fit for the World Cup, that is understood to be unlikely.

Mark Wood also remains sidelined after elbow surgery. His return has been delayed and there is currently no timescale for when he may appear again.

How England would love one, or both, of them to make it.

What to do about Stokes?

Ben Stokes, another to sit out the series, has been an England T20 regular when available.

But things have changed since he last pulled on the England T20 shirt 16 months ago.

Stokes is now Test captain and his predecessor Joe Root played in just eight of England’s 66 T20s during his tenure, using that period as a time to rest and recharge.

Stokes is in the squad for the three-match one-day international series that starts next week, which suggests white-ball cricket is still firmly in his mind.

Exciting 22-year-old Harry Brook showed flashes, his 19 from nine balls on Sunday in particular. But he could miss out when Stokes and Bairstow return.

Malan makes his point… again

Once again when under pressure, Dawid Malan looks to have confirmed his place.

Even when the left-hander was ranked number one in the T20 international batting rankings some suggested he was not worth his place in the side.

It was little surprise after low scores for Malan in the first two games that the England number three’s spot was being debated.

But he responded with 77 from 39 balls to end a run of 10 innings without a half-century, during which he averaged only 21.

Threats to Malan’s place would include Stokes, if England chose to move him from the middle order, or even Root, whose Test form is so good some will argue he merits a T20 recall.

Malan’s return to form was perfectly timed.

Decide on the balance and allow Buttler to grow

Victory in the third T20 came after England switched the balance of their side – extra batter Phil Salt picked in place of all-rounder Sam Curran.

Put simply; it worked. England won.

But the whole line-up, with Moeen Ali at six and Brook seven, did look stronger.

The hosts only used six bowlers as opposed to the seven in the first two games but the attack coped, in the face of an incredible hundred from Suryakumar Yadav.

It was the first major decision made by new captain Buttler, as he takes the team on following Eoin Morgan’s retirement.

Buttler’s time in the field was busy, often heard shouting instructions to Jordan to pass onto the bowlers, running down himself or deliberating with his lieutenant Moeen.

“I kept looking at Jos and I couldn’t really tell the situation of the game,” Topley said after Sunday’s win. “That is a credit to him and one of his great qualities that he will bring as a captain.”

Those words were said repeatedly about Buttler’s predecessor.

When Rashid, Bairstow and Stokes return then England’s XI, on paper at least, will look stronger. Any other comebacks will be a welcome bonus.

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