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T20 World Cup: Ian Bell on England, Australia and Virat Kohli

After England's win over Afghanistan and Virat Kohli's incredible innings against Pakistan, Ian Bell discusses the start of the T20 World Cup.

England off to winning start

It wasn’t the best performance we’ve ever seen from England against Afghanistan, but in World Cups, especially in the first game of the tournament, it’s just good to get a win under your belt. 

It was great to see Mark Wood bowl at the pace he did – I think it was the fastest anyone’s ever bowled at a T20 World Cup – and when he’s fully fit he makes this England team and the bowling attack look a lot different.

That and Sam Curran’s 5-fer were the standout performances, and when you look at the England side coming into the tournament, especially with no Jofra Archer, you’d think it’s the bowling they had to work on.

It wasn’t to be for the batters in this game, but a win’s a win and they did what they needed to do against a decent Afghanistan side who’ve got individuals playing in all the big leagues around the world, so they’ll be very happy with that.

Jos Buttler said he was looking to field his strongest side as often as possible throughout the tournament and I like the sound of that. It’d be dangerous to underestimate anyone and rotate players unless there’s someone who has a niggle. 

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But if England win the next couple and look like they’ve qualified, you can do that, but while Wood’s fit and raring to go, I’d rather him be on the field than sat on the bench. He’s had a tough time with injury and when he’s fit, he’s brilliant, so I’d want to use him as much as possible and keep the momentum going.

Regarding Curran, I wouldn’t say he’s caught people by surprise with his bowling and his 5-fer against Afghanistan, but he’s certainly been a big plus, even in the warm-up games against Australia. 

This isn’t just a one-off, and we know he’s got attacking options with the bat and you could argue with Moeen Ali and Curran that they could bat higher up the order, but the fact he’s winning games with the ball is a very good sign for England and himself.

Onto England vs Ireland, and you of course expect England to come through this one, but as I’ve said before in T20 cricket, you just need one player to have a day out. I remember being a part of a 50-over game against Ireland at the 2011 World Cup where Kevin O’Brien scored a century to win the game. 

They have the players who potentially could do that, and they do raise their game against England. Think back to the Lord’s Test match where we needed a Jack Leach 90 to get us out of a hole, but I do think this England side has too much quality.

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Virat Kohli’s masterclass

We talk a lot about Ashes cricket, but India vs Pakistan is such a huge game, and they don’t play as much as England and Australia do. It’s rare you see them play away from World Cups or ICC events, so these games are huge.

Even watching it I felt a bit nervous! You could see it at the start, even Virat Kohli and guys who’ve played cricket all over the world, it looked like a nervous first 10 overs for both teams, but the atmosphere at the MCG looked absolutely electric and it was a great game of cricket.

The difference in the end was the quality of Kohli. We’ve said it for years, the way he can time a run chase to perfection, he’s done it for so long, but to do it on that stage, against Pakistan, in front of 90,000 people was an absolute masterclass. 

It was probably the best innings we’ve ever seen in a T20 World Cup. He said himself – it’s one of the best he’s ever played.

Even the conditions – the ball moved around a lot. The MCG isn’t always the quickest pitch in Australia but the ball seemed to carry through which was in the bowlers’ favour.

He soaked up pressure at the start and was involved in a run-out, and to be involved in that sort of mix-up adds pressure to you as you’ve got to shut that out. 

But the innings had a bit of everything: the technique to get through the moving ball at the start, the mental capacity, the timing, and then the power at the end to finish off. Those two 6s, if they hadn’t gone for 6, Pakistan would’ve been massive favourites, but his shot selection was fantastic.

At the MCG you want to bowl back of a length as the boundaries are 80+ yards square, but straight down, they’re not particularly big. And they weren’t particularly bad balls, but to hit off the back foot down the ground, he has to take a lot of credit.

Hosts Australia under pressure

Having seen a lot of Australia, Australian cricket have been very loyal to a lot of players who’ve been around for a long time. They’ve got a lot of good players who didn’t get into the squad for the tournament, and it’ll be interesting to see how they do in this competition.

There’s certainly pressure on some senior players now, the likes of Aaron Finch who’s at the back end of his career, but New Zealand were magnificent. It’s difficult to over-criticise Australia because New Zealand were that good. 

Finn Allen got out of the blocks fast and having worked with him for Birmingham Phoenix at the Hundred, I think he’ll end up becoming one of the top T20 batters. He’s such a clean striker of the ball but he also has a really fearless approach, and he could add the extra power that I think New Zealand need.

Having lost the opening match it puts the tournament hosts under a bit of pressure, and having taken such a heavy loss, their run rate will have taken a hit as well, so they’re going to have to win every game – and win some really comfortably as well. They have the ability and the class to do so, but there’s certainly pressure on them.

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