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Graeme Smith: England need fresh faces and new combinations

13 Jun | BY Graeme Smith | MIN READ TIME |
Graeme Smith: England need fresh faces and new combinations

The Betway ambassador reflects on events so far at the T20 World Cup, including South Africa and Australia's impressive wins, England's struggles and USA's upset victory over Pakistan.

It’s been great to be a part of the T20 World Cup, and I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing cricket played in New York.

Nobody knew what to expect with drop-in pitches, new outfields and a pop-up stadium, but the conditions have brought teams closer together, and there have been a lot of upsets and exciting games.

The tournament’s wide open, with a lot of the teams that were touted as favourites now in a little bit of trouble.

There are still a few stories to be told, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how the Super 8 groups stack up.

Drop-in pitches make strategy key

The pitches and the outfield have played really slow – particularly in New York – and it’s been a grind for batters. It’s been good to see bowlers fight back a little bit and have more of an opportunity. I’ve enjoyed the tension in the close games. There’s a lot of ‘stand and deliver’ in the way guys play T20 cricket today, but batters have had to think more about how they go about their work.

Batting first, the powerplay has been the toughest part of the innings and any score around 120 to 130 has been really competitive. If you’re bowling first, you want to strike in the first six overs to have a team in big trouble.

When batting second, you have to take the game on more in the powerplay to try and get a little bit ahead, because then the pitch slows up and the last 10 overs of batting become a challenge.

It’s all about getting the strategy right coming in, and adapting to what happens at the toss. I don’t think it will be a tournament with too many scores in the 220s and 230s. It’s going to be about hitting competitive totals and fielding and bowling really well.

Klaasen proving he’s the best in the world

For South Africa, again, the middle order have impressed. Everyone’s been talking about David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen and they’ve been outstanding. Along with Tristan Stubbs, that middle order has got serious power and ability, but they can’t carry the entire tournament. They will be hoping that the top order can find some form as the top three haven’t performed for a little while now.

If they can get off to good starts, the middle order will be so damaging. When always have to recover the innings, it takes away from their natural scoring ability.

I think Klaasen is the best middle-order white ball batter in the world, and he’s done it consistently for two years now. In T20 cricket, the guys batting at four, five and six that can hit the ball out of the ground and change the game – that’s where the money is. If I was buying players for franchises, Klaasen’s the type of player I’d want.

Zampa key for impressive Australia

The other team that’s really looking like they’re on top of their game is Australia.

We know they come together and play so well in these world events, and they’ve got a lot of players in form with both bat and ball. Adam Zampa is such a key figure for them. He looks like he’s bowling really well, the conditions will suit him and he’s been a stand-out player of the tournament so far.

I’d say Australia are looking like the favourites, but it’s very difficult to judge teams that have been in New York. It’s so hard to know what kind of form they are in when playing in those conditions. At this stage, it’s just about small margins and getting the job done. If you get away with three wins and qualification like South Africa have, you’re over the moon.

England need a refresh

The teams who will be disappointed are England, Pakistan and New Zealand. Those three teams don’t have players in form, and it’s showing. They are up against it.

England have surprised me because there’s so much talent in that squad. From the ODI World Cup into this tournament, it doesn’t seem to be gelling with key players performing in their roles. Jonny Bairstow, for example, has really struggled since coming back from his leg injury and just hasn’t been able to find any rhythm.

Maybe it’s time for England to look at one or two fresher faces and some new combinations, just to renew that energy. There’s a lot of hype around England cricket but they haven’t nailed the results over the recent period, even in the Test side.

They’ve got all the attributes, the coaching, the money. All the requirements are there for them to perform well, so they’ll be hugely disappointed with how things have gone.

USA performance could spark growth

I’ve always said T20 cricket is the format for growth and I think we’re seeing that now. We’re now consistently seeing associate nations competing with member nations, and it has been way more competitive than people might have thought.

Afghanistan are looking like a power team, and USA’s win over Pakistan was a great story.

I think people around the US were initially trying to understand how big that was, not knowing how good Pakistan are. It really has captured the imagination now, though,  and brought a lot more attention to the game. The ICC would have hoped and wished that the USA team would be competitive, so it’s a dream come true for an event organiser.

There’s a huge diaspora in the US and a natural cricket base already. You can really feel the love for sports in America and the fanatical nature that they have for their teams. Even if you catch 20 or 30 per cent of that, you’ve got a successful product in the US market.

With Major League Cricket developing year-on-year, big investment coming in stadiums and the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, I think everyone feels there’s something brewing in the US that could be exciting.

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Graeme Smith

Graeme Smith

Betway's global cricket ambassador who captained South Africa in 108 of his 116 Tests, scoring over 9,000 runs and 27 hundreds.

Graeme Smith

Graeme Smith

Betway's global cricket ambassador who captained South Africa in 108 of his 116 Tests, scoring over 9,000 runs and 27 hundreds.