Salt and Archer can make the difference as England take on South Africa | T20 World Cup 2024

T20 World Cup 2024

The opener and fast bowler played key roles in the win against West Indies that reignited the T20 team’s World Cup campaign.

Thursday 20 June 2024 19.08 CEST

Jos Buttler looked to make a virtue of staying level during this Men’s T20 World Cup, stressing the importance of not getting too down when, during what was supposed to be a first innings, England walked into another downpour of elimination.

Now comes the other side of the old cliché: the importance of not getting too giddy after what, in fairness, was a fairly blistering win over the West Indies to start the Super Eight phase. The return is a short one, with just a day’s sleep after returning to the hotel at around 1am – a spot of rehab and in the pool, perhaps – before taking on South Africa at the Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium at 10.30am. it’s Friday local time.

England were also looking to park that miserable 50-over World Cup last winter, but it won’t have been lost on them that their next opponents are the ones who caused the disadvantage in India; that 229 runs in Mumbai when they broke their selection strategy, played first in an oven based on T20 stats and were totally manhandled by Heinrich Klaasen. No one said the word “revenge,” but motivation shouldn’t be an issue.

They seem a little better placed this time, too, with the T20 format, albeit much more capricious, much stronger these days, thanks to its general ubiquity and less time for that old English weakness: overthinking much to things. Add to that two key differences on a bleak day that could easily have seen Buttler and Matthew Mott, the head coach, being led down the catwalk: Phil Salt and Jofra Archer.

After six childhood years spent living in Barbados, Salt is very much in tune with the rhythms of cricket here, those twin centuries during last December’s tour now eclipsed by Wednesday night’s unbeaten 87 from just 47 balls. It showed that a player labeled as an all-out bully from the start has different steps; that careful but still fairly quick start, that period of consolidation, and then that stunning 30 runs in the 16th over that poor shepherd Romario Shepherd all over and iced the match.

As well as crediting Jonny Bairstow for the year’s rise in that middle phase, Salt explained that the confidence to sit for a spell came from feeling more confident about his place. There was also a tactical input from coach Kieron Pollard here, a plan to aim for eight and over at one end, 12 at the other, with the cross breeze very much in mind. Salt picked his moments masterfully, something that could well have caught Brendon McCullum’s eye as options are being considered for the Test wicketkeeper this summer.

McCullum, wherever he is now, will no doubt be itching to get his hands on Archer too, although as things stand, he will have to wait. A diet of white-ball cricket in 2024 is the plan here, building up the fast bowler’s stamina for long-form cricket next year. Not that there won’t be a temptation to push this forward, such was how Archer, after 14 months on the sidelines, ran from the traps like a thoroughbred running the Garrison Savannah in his native Barbados.

Phil Salt hit 87 not out from 47 balls in England’s win over the West Indies. Photo: Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC/Getty Images

Even on a night when Archer’s first two overs leaked four boundaries and cost 21 runs in total, the 16th over also sent the incendiary Nicholas Pooran into overdrive – wide yorkers at command before finding the edge – emphasized what sets it apart. “I was just happy to execute,” he said. “It was all we talked about at bowling meetings. It was one of those moments where you nailed it, the execution was almost perfect.”

In all likelihood, with the USA next on Sunday, an England win would book a place in the semi-finals, although South Africa might have something to say about that. Their tour has made it five wins from five, overcoming some potentially confidence-draining surfaces in the first round, before a win against the Americans in Antigua on Wednesday morning that saw the likes of Quinton de Kock – 74 from 40 – and Aiden Markram – 46 from 32 – to finally hit through the loose line.

In Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, the Proteas also boast skill and pace. Mindful of how England looked positive against Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie – 67 runs from their combined eight overs – left-arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi may make way for Ottneil Baartman. A 31-year-old medium-quick who boasts some subtle variation, Baartman thought his opportunity at international level had passed him by, only to break through the door in the SA20 under Dale Steyn.

Steyn’s advice to Baartman at the time was apparently to “remain the person you are – don’t change for anything in the world”. Those are words England may similarly want to heed in a format where going ahead after a strong win like the one they witnessed on Wednesday night can often be followed by a step back.