The world’s top-ranked T20I side have turned up on the big stage.
Eoin Morgan’s England are an intimidating white-ball outfit, with their aggression with the bat one of the standout features of T20 international cricket over the past World Cup cycle.
But few would have looked to England’s bowling attack as a strength to lean on, particularly in the absence of Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran.
Yet it is that bowling attack that saw England dominate the first-half of their Group 1 campaign, and ultimately bowled them to a net run rate advantage that helped them top the group.
A ten-run loss to South Africa could be seen as England losing form at precisely the wrong time. Or alternatively it could be viewed as a perfect high-pressure test run before the semi-finals. The result in the final four will suggest which is true.
But with Jos Buttler at his very best and England’s powerful middle order beginning to find their range-hitting feet, they will head into tonight's semi-final full of confidence.
Cricket World Cup champions, reigning T20 No.1s and 2016 T20 World Cup runners up; England are just two games away from another famous chapter in their legacy.
Road to the semi-finals
England got their campaign off to spectacular fashion, bowling West Indies all out for 55 and chasing it down in just 8.2 overs for a crushing first win that ultimately made the difference in net run rate to send them through. Moeen Ali set up the win with two early wickets, but it was his fellow spinner Adil Rashid who returned the pick of the figures – four wickets for two runs in 2.2 overs.
Bangladesh were the next to fall foul of the England juggernaut, with Ali again in the wickets before Jason Roy hit a quickfire 61 in an easy chase. And Jos Buttler’s blistering 71 made astonishingly short work of a chase of 126 against Australia, with England reaching it in just 11.4 overs.
The huge NRR advantage set up by that trio of crushing wins gave England a huge chance of progressing coming into the final two matches of their Super 12 campaign. But they were made to work hard in Sharjah, with Sri Lanka pushing them close despite Buttler’s brilliant century.
And defeat to South Africa in the final group game ultimately didn’t cost England top spot, despite both teams and Australia all finishing tied on eight points, with that positive NRR doing its job in the end.
What’s worked for them
The form of opening batter Jos Buttler has been one of the standout features of the tournament. Buttler in this sort of form can take down any attack, as he proved by dismantling the differing styles of Sri Lanka and Australia. The whole of England’s top-seven looks strong going into the semi-finals, even with the absence of Roy.
But it was the Powerplay bowling that has been the biggest fillip for England at the tournament. The injury to Jofra Archer robbed England of one of the best Powerplay bowlers in the world, and Sam Curran’s absence also denied the team one of their regular options in the first six. But Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes have been superb in that role during the tournament so far. Ali has taken seven wickets across four innings, returning an impressively low economy rate in the process. And Woakes’ ability to move the ball early on has seen him become the key part of England’s Powerplay plan.
Causes for concern
Roy’s injury and absence from the final four is a blow to England. The opening batter’s form and aggressive approach has been a cornerstone of the team’s strategy in white-ball cricket over recent years.
There are a number of ways that England could replace him in the team, but all require a batting-order reshuffle that could prove destabilising at precisely the wrong moment.
And both Sri Lanka and South Africa showed that England’s bowling attack can really be got at, particularly if opponents can restrict their losses in the Powerplay.
No team has yet targeted England’s fifth bowler, be that Ali or Liam Livingstone, but even so they went for 189 against South Africa and never looked in control.
Jos Buttler – The tournament’s top-scorer has been the obvious star man for England through the Super 12 stage. His century against Sri Lanka was the highlight of course, but over five matches Buttler has scored 240 runs at an average of 120.00 and a strike-rate of 155.84. Those are astonishing numbers.
Chris Jordan – The form of England’s experience death-over specialist was a big concern coming into the tournament. Jordan had been extremely expensive for some time in an England shirt, and would have been at severe risk of being dropped had injuries not begun to mount up. But Jordan’s returns have been excellent, especially in those overs at the end of the innings. If the 33-year-old can deliver at the business end it makes England’s attack a far more stable unit.