Sam Curran bowled his way into becoming England’s key player

Sam Curran of England looked happy after England’s win (Picture: Getty Images)

From the moment they despatched New Zealand four matches ago, England had looked the side to beat in this T20 World Cup.

That nobody really came close means they fly home, having defeated Pakistan in the final, the undisputed white-ball champions of world cricket, the first team to hold both 50-over and 20-over world titles concurrently.

If it has seemed fairly straightforward, after their shock defeat by Ireland a fortnight ago, the solution lay with them tightening their plans for Australia’s bigger grounds and their (surprisingly) bowler-friendly pitches.

On most surfaces prepared for white-ball cricket, the only variable is sideways movement through swing, seam or spin, and then not much.

In rain-hit Australia, there was all that plus vertical variation through extra bounce, which meant ball did not hit the middle of the bat with the same regularity that many players expected.

For England a pragmatism took hold, one that prized substance over style and machismo, especially among the batsmen who realised that, for once, the bowlers would likely boss it and not be the whipping boys.

Adil Rashid of England celebrates the wicket of Mohammad Haris of Pakistan (Picture: Getty Images)

Happily, Jos Buttler’s side had an attack of all the talents (unlike a Liz Truss cabinet) and it paid off handsomely especially in the final, where it limited Pakistan to an under-par total of 137.

There is often talk of bowling attacks having leaders but England’s seemed egalitarian in the way that an ants’ nest does, with everyone knowing their role but also that they might be called upon to fulfil another at a moment’s notice.

It isn’t often that a bowler picks up both the man-of-the-final and player-of-the-tournament awards but Sam Curran did just that.

The second was certainly deserved though even he suggested the first should have gone to Ben Stokes, whose unbeaten 52 against Pakistan, on an MCG pitch helpful to all bowlers, was central to England’s victory.

Curran, 24, is a curiosity, as was his miserly three for 12 in the final. Being under 6ft tall he doesn’t look especially imposing and he doesn’t do anything that other bowlers can’t do in terms of swing or cut.

He rarely exceeds 83mph, which is not terrifying, so there is nothing to instill apprehension. But then maybe that is part of the deception, which in T20 is what effective bowling is all about.

He does bowl left-arm, which data analysts tell us is an advantage in modern cricket (though not why), while his lowish trajectory and fast arm means he can skid the ball through, which can sometimes be an advantage.

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Instead, Curran’s superiority comes from thinking better, which enables him to make clear, calm decisions in pressure situations when the grey matter in others is turning to mush. Bowlers tend to think like predators but he also thinks like a chess grandmaster.

What he does is tailor each ball not only to the batsman facing it but to the match situation, the boundary size, the state of the pitch and the position his fielders are in.

In T20, that requires quick computation and utter conviction and while batsmen can quite often tell what a bowler will do next, Curran seems to anticipate what batsmen will do and then counters it with any number of options at his command – slippery bouncer, slower-ball cutter, wide yorker, cross-seam skidder, etc, etc…. he has them all.

There is an element of bluff at play and he doesn’t always nail it but you probably don’t want to play poker against him.

Where he succeeds, more than most, is in knowing when to use a certain ball. While other bowlers are happy to show their variations to batsmen, perhaps before they need to, Curran keeps them squirrelled away until the time is right.

Jos Buttler lifts the trophy after England won the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Final (Picture: Getty Images)

The optimal ball only becomes so if used at the optimal moment. Curran took 13 wickets in the tournament which over the 22.4 overs he bowled was excellent. He bowled half of those overs at the death, when batsmen were hacking away furiously, which makes his 6.52 runs-per-over pretty incredible. England look to have found their banker.

The other bowling success, certainly in the last few games, has been Adil Rashid. Although a go-to bowler under Eoin Morgan, who understood the value of wrist-spinners who spin it two ways, Rashid had stopped being effective following injury to his bowling shoulder.

That changed in the last two games, against India in the semi and then Pakistan in Saturday’s final. Like all great players he made an adjustment, to bowl slower, which suited his shoulder better as well as the pitches, which meant his leg-break spun again. His googly, though, remains a thing of wonder as Pakistan’s captain, Babar Azam, discovered, not for the first time.

The fixing rod holding England together was Buttler’s captaincy, which was calm, flexible and full of authority given he could literally lead from the front as the team’s opening batsman.

He even insisted Ben Stokes be included in the squad when many were saying his stats and long absence from the format should preclude him.

Predictably, and there are some givens in life that just are, it was Stokes who saw England to victory in the final with an unbeaten 52, though he did not need to draw on the full Red Adair rescue act.

Stokes’ next challenge is to see if he can get the Test team to win in Pakistan, while Buttler’s white-ball side have to play Australia in three 50-over matches. But true world champions get up for any challenge, even humdrum ones that come straight after the Lord Mayor’s show.

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