For England to be within two games of holding both white-ball World Cup titles six years after hitting rock bottom in Adelaide with a 50-over defeat by Bangladesh is an extraordinary achievement.
And to have reached Wednesday’s Twenty20 semi-final against New Zealand here after losing so many players to injury — Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran before the tournament, Tymal Mills and Jason Roy during it — is phenomenal, too.
This, of course, is a rematch of that great day at Lord’s in 2019 with the same two wonderful captains in charge. We all recognise how good Eoin Morgan is but I think Kane Williamson is almost as good, if not as good. It is a battle of two of the greats.
England captain Eoin Morgan (right) shakes hands with New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson ahead of the 2019 ODI World Cup final at Lord’s
England eventually triumphed by the barest of margins in a super over to claim glory
Not that England’s super over triumph should have a bearing on this semi-final. Teams move on quickly and, let’s be honest, it could easily have gone the other way at Lord’s.
If the fielder’s throw hadn’t hit Ben Stokes’ bat and taken a ricochet for four, or if Trent Boult hadn’t stepped over the rope when he took that catch, it would have been New Zealand’s day.
England have certainly come a long way since that 2015 World Cup when they were knocked out by Bangladesh to seal yet another white-ball failure.
And New Zealand were the team they learnt from. Remember, the white-ball nadir actually came when England were thrashed by New Zealand at Wellington and it was his friend Brendon McCullum Morgan turned to for an example of how to go about the game.
The World Cup victory came just four years after a humiliating defeat by Bangladesh
Morgan and Williamson will come face-to-face again in Wednesday’s Twenty20 semi-final
England have been disrupted this week by the injury to Roy that has ruled him out of the closing stages but they do have a like-for-like replacement in Jonny Bairstow. I would move him up to open. It’s where he wants to bat anyway.
They should be flexible with the rest of the line-up depending on who is bowling, with Moeen Ali floating around three or four with Dawid Malan, and Sam Billings coming in to replace Roy and batting at seven, after Morgan and Liam Livingstone.
There is the option of playing another all-rounder and bringing in David Willey. He could provide the left-arm angle they have lost in Mills’ absence and is a decent hitter with the bat but I just think at this stage it would change the dynamic of the team too much.
Morgan has become very much a believer in match-ups as a captain, as he has shown by bowling Moeen in the powerplay the moment there were left-handers at the crease against West Indies, Bangladesh and South Africa. Equally, against Australia’s right-handers and Aaron Finch in particular, Moeen didn’t bowl in the game.
England have been hit with a series of injuries in their run to the Twenty20 World Cup semi-final including to opening batsman Jason Roy (centre) who retired against South Africa
I would move Jonny Bairstow up to open in place of Roy as it is where he prefers to bat
New Zealand have three right-handers in the top order — Martin Guptill, Daryl Mitchell and Williamson — so I’d expect Adil Rashid to bowl instead in that powerplay today.
The one thing we know about England now is that they won’t choke on the big stage. They have a lot of high-pressure games behind them and Morgan has been involved in an IPL final before this tournament on top of all those international matches.
But they will be wary of New Zealand — a crack outfit who know exactly what they’re doing.
Their attack in particular, with Trent Boult and Tim Southee up front and at the death and the spin of Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, is outstanding.
They are also extremely sharp in the field.
Santner has been a revelation here. His subtle changes of pace have made him one of the bowlers of the tournament and England may have to target him with their left-handers — the captain himself, Moeen and Malan.
Martin Guptill will be a key man for New Zealand if they are to make an above-par total
Williamson is the high-class batter in the New Zealand line-up and stabilises their innings but for me Guptill is the key to whether they make an above-par total. If he fires, he can be destructive but the only thing they lack if he doesn’t come off is a big hitter.
There seems little doubt the side winning the toss will bowl because of the possibility of dew in the second innings making the ball harder for bowlers to grip — even though it seems to happen more in Sharjah than here in Abu Dhabi.
Twenty20 cricket in general is moving in the direction of captains preferring to chase, too.
But, as Morgan pointed out, England got a lot out of beating Sri Lanka by defending a total with a wet ball so they have that experience in their locker should they bowl second.
I have England as favourites but, as ever, New Zealand have slipped under the radar in reaching this stage ahead of India and are clearly a force to be reckoned with.
We could even be in for another closely-fought classic.