The most successful predators single out the weakest individual to devour. That is always Australia’s way on a cricket field, both with deeds, and of course, words.
The problem for them on Sunday was selecting a victim. Because this England side do not have a weak link. Every player in the team ‘executes’ – to use a horrible modern term – their role to the full.
Ironically, the least impressive England player in this tournament, in terms of stats anyway, has been the captain. The England players call Paul Collingwood ‘Weed’ because of his apparent lack of muscle with the bat, but borrowing much strategy from his stint in the Indian Premier League, he has been both imaginative and inspirational as a leader.
He astutely kept up close fielders in the powerplay overs, recognising the life in the pitch, and it paid off. Australia were 24 for three after six overs. He also brilliantly snaffled his opposite number at midwicket, just when the Australian captain, Michael Clarke, was mounting a recovery.
The catch itself was a product of England’s geometric approach to this campaign. It has been all about angles. Narrowing the scope afforded to a batsman by being closer in than normal, saving one, enabled Collingwood to intercept Clarke’s chip. Bowlers have also used the width and breadth of the crease cleverly and the England batting order is loaded with players who hit the ball in strange places.
Craig Kieswetter and Kevin Pietersen make a perfect combination in this regard. While Pietersen’s leg-side persuasions are well known, Kieswetter slices the ball through or over the off side, depositing it in untended areas with flexible wrists and astonishing bat speed.
Despite the early loss of Michael Lumb, these two in different ways manoeuvred England to a respectable 41 for one after the power-play overs. They were neither cautious nor kamikaze, using a measured approach against Australia’s rather one-dimensional pace attack. The most influential shot was a pull for two by Pietersen off Shaun Tait. It was far from his most memorable stroke, but the way he leapt off his feet to flat-bat an attempted 92mph bouncer through midwicket energised England and deflated Australia.
It was a ‘is that the best you can do?’ shot. The answer from the Australians was clearly ‘yes’.
With his pace attack blunted, Clarke rung the changes and brought on the medium pace of Shane Watson for the ninth over. Recognising their potential victim, England went for the jugular. Twelve runs came from that over, 16 from Watson’s subsequent effort and he was eventually dispatched for 42 off 18 balls.
The animal was now mortally wounded and Collingwood himself was there to complete the kill.
Though luck is a significant factor in Twenty20 cricket, England deserved this success for their appliance of science, their brave team selections and a captain who is becoming a master of reinvention.