The Indian Premier League is one of the best proving grounds in Twenty20 cricket; perhaps the perfect competition for some of England’s stars to find form before the T20 World Cup begins on Sunday.
Since the IPL’s return, in the latter weeks of September, seven English players have featured in the competition’s group stage. But it hasn’t been plain sailing.
The IPL started in spring but was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic in India, and was subsequently moved to a September and October window in the United Arab Emirates with a finishing date just days prior to the opening game of the World Cup, also taking place in the UAE, and Oman.
Players such as Ben Stokes had been part of the initial squads but the delay led to some of those walking away from their franchises.
England all-rounders Moeen Ali and Sam Curran, bowlers Chris Jordan and Adil Rashid, batters Liam Livingstone and Jason Roy, and the England T20 captain himself, Eoin Morgan, however, have returned to their IPL teams for the last few weeks.
The results have been underwhelming. Of the batting statistics, Roy’s average of 30 is an England high with the likes of Ali averaging 14 and Livingstone, a star of The Hundred, averaging just 8. As for the England skipper, a tournament high of 13 not out has given him an average of 5.7 in recent weeks.
With the competition taking place in the same conditions as the World Cup, these performances with the bat, against some of the world’s best bowlers, could be a sign of things to come in the upcoming tournament.
The surroundings are largely the same now as they will be throughout the World Cup, while the pitches, too, will be of a similar quality. And England’s batsmen haven’t been part of a competition-wide lull. There have been consistently high knocks from other batters.
While Roy has hit totals of 60, 44 and 34 since the IPL’s return, his average of 30 includes dismissals in every innings that he has featured in and his runs have only helped his side, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, to two wins in his five games.
As captain, Morgan may be worried by his underperformance, and some of his teammate’s showings will fail to provide much solace.
Turning attention towards the bowling attack at the World Cup, it’s hard to see past Chris Jordan. The tall right-arm fast bowler got two wickets in his solitary match for the Punjab Kings and didn’t bat.
The IPL has been a stark warning for Morgan’s side. England have had ample preparation time for the showpiece T20 competition and yet are likely to turn up looking undercooked.
England are due to begin their campaign a week on Saturday against the West Indies, in a repeat of the final the last time this event was held. England collapsed then, in India, and this reunion should offer a barometer of their current form.
Morgan’s men then go on to play a yet to be determined qualifier team before matches against Australia and South Africa.
One unknown inside the England batting ranks is Jonny Bairstow. The Yorkshireman hasn’t played a T20 match since England’s series against Pakistan, in which Livingstone lit up the cricketing world. Bairstow has chosen not to play in the IPL so should be fresh, albeit without recent playing experience.
While England are not favourites for the World Cup – that honour has been afforded to India – they are the second in the betting so they will shoulder some expectation.
Morgan, Moeen and Curran could yet end the IPL on a high note, since their teams reached the play-offs, which are being played this week.
But the IPL offered a perfectly timed opportunity to prepare for the World Cup and – barring a dramatic late change in fortunes for that trio – many of England’s stars have failed to grasp it.