- World Twenty20 2012
England battling against the odds
Rarely can the defending champions in any competition have come into a tournament with so little expected of them. Despite winning the last World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010, winning the majority of their T20 games since and a position at the top of both of the rankings in both limited-overs formats, few expect England to retain the trophy.
The reasons for that are simple: England have an inglorious record in Asian conditions and several of the architects of that 2010 success have gone. Kevin Pietersen, the Man of the Tournament in the Caribbean, will be in the commentary box while Ryan Sidebottom, the left-arm seamer whose contribution was seen as so vital, and Michael Yardy, who conceded runs at a rate of just 6.80 an over, have gone. So, too, has Paul Collingwood, the only England captain to have led an England team to success in a global event. While Danny Briggs has replaced Yardy, no left-arm seamer was deemed ready to replace Sidebottom and Stuart Broad remains an inexperienced captain.
England's record in Asian conditions is not quite so black and white as some might have you believe. While they were thrashed in the Tests in the UAE earlier this year, it is worth remembering that they bounced back to take both the ODI and T20 series. Similarly, while England were also thrashed in the ODI series in India less than a year ago and endured forgettable ODI World Cups played in Asian conditions - in 1996 and 2011, when they lost to Ireland and Bangladesh - it is worth remembering that in that same tournament they also defeated South Africa and West Indies and tied with the eventual winners, India.
This England squad is not hugely experienced. Danny Briggs has bowled just 12 balls in international T20 cricket, while Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow are talented but raw. But it is also worth remembering that they went into the 2010 event with an unproven team - both opening batsmen made their debuts in the first game - and a relatively inexperienced captain. Just as on that occasion they required much to go their way, so they will this time. The difference is that this time they are without their most likely match-winner.
Eoin Morgan. In the absence of Pietersen, Morgan is the only proven match-winning batsman in the England side. Blessed with the strength to clear the ropes and the ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps with a range of idiosyncratic but highly skilful strokes Morgan can, when the mood is with him, devastate an attack. His struggles in the UAE - he was dropped from the England Test team after a gruesome series against Pakistan - and then spent the IPL season on the bench to do not bode especially well, but he bounced back with brilliant performances against Australia and South Africa. His T20 figures are actually unexceptional - he has passed 50 only three times in 25 innings and he has a strike-rate of 132.90 - but he has the experience, the skill and the big-match temperament to be a match-winner and, without Pietersen, England are heavily reliant upon him.7
Danny Briggs. Dropped from Hampshire's County Championship side due to a lack of incision - he claimed just five Championship wickets in 2012 at an average of 49.80 - he has nevertheless emerged as an excellent limited-overs bowler who played a key role in his county winnings both limited-overs competitions. Aged only 21 and having bowled only 12 balls in T20Is, he will be largely unknown to most opponents and, while he is not a huge turner of the ball, he has excellent control, surprising pace and decent variation. If he has a good tournament, it will go some way to his team doing the same.
There are a few. The absence of Pietersen is clearly a blow and there is an obvious concern over England's ability to combat spin bowling on the low, slow pitches that are anticipated. There are long-term worries about the elbow problems of Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, too. But it is Ravi Bopara's lack of form and confidence with the bat that threatens to disturb the balance of the side. Bopara's well-controlled and skilful medium-pace has been particularly productive in recent weeks and built in a buffer zone for England should one of their main bowlers endure a poor day. But such is his lack of form with the bat that he has been rendered something close to a specialist bowler in recent weeks. Without his ability to clear the ropes, England look over reliant on Morgan and Buttler with the bat and uncomfortably reliant for back-up bowling on Luke Wright, who bowled just one over in the 2010 event.
World T20 history
Despite winning the World T20 in 2010, England have arguably suffered more embarrassment in this format than any Full Member. No team has lost more games - eight - than England in World T20s (though New Zealand and Bangladesh have also lost eight) and, in 2007 and 2009, they failed to progress beyond the last eight. In 2007, England's only victory came against Zimbabwe and they lost all three of their Super Eight games culminating in Yuvraj Singh's thrashing of Broad for 36 in an over in Durban. They fared little better in 2009 when they were beaten by Netherlands at Lord's, though England did defeat eventual winners Pakistan and India before they were eliminated. In 2010 they emerged from the group stages despite failing to win a match - they were beaten by West Indies and probably saved by the rain against Ireland - but then won their next five games to secure the trophy.
England have won 15 of their last 20 completed T20 games and are currently rated No.1 in the official ICC T20 rankings. They have not lost a series of more than one game since the World T20 of 2009 and, of the six T20s they have played this year, England have won four. They have only played one T20 in Asia (against India in Kolkata), which they won, while in vaguely similar conditions - in the UAE - they won two of their three T20s against Pakistan.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo