‘We could have done without’ final warm-up game, admits England’s Willey

As the T20 World Cup started in Geelong on Sunday, the eight teams that have automatically qualified for the Super 12s gathered in Brisbane for their final warm-up matches, games that some consider a vital part of their preparations and others little more than an inconvenience.

Most teams play two games, an idea that England, despite some pressure from the ICC, simply refused to entertain. Having flown here from Canberra on Saturday they play Pakistan on Monday before moving on Tuesday to Perth, a flight of around five and a half hours, where they open their tournament against Afghanistan on Saturday. “We could have done without it to be honest,” David Willey said on Sunday. “To then fly all the way back to Perth is a bit of an inconvenience. We’ve played a lot of games and we could do without this one.”

These eight teams have taken fascinatingly contrasting approaches to preparing their players for this tournament, with some being constantly taxed while others mainly relaxed. Afghanistan, for example, play warm-ups against Bangladesh on Monday and Pakistan on Wednesday, their first games since the Asia Cup ended in early September. New Zealand on the other hand have played five games since mid-August, all of them in the last 10 days.

Meanwhile since the start of last month England have played 10 games and Pakistan 17, seven of them against each other. Neither is in particular need of an eighth, and with this one being unofficial most of their players are likely to be on the pitch at some point.

“I think we can play more than 11 and it’s always nice to be out in the middle under a bit of pressure so we’ll still get plenty out of the game,” Willey said. “But realistically we could have done without it.” In the last month Australia, the only other side to have just one match scheduled in Brisbane, have played three T20 series, in India and at home to West Indies and England, having travelled for ODIs in Zimbabwe and New Zealand before that. “It’s been a busy month,” Pat Cummins said on Sunday.

“I rested from the one-dayers so I feel a bit fresher than some of the other guys, but we flew to India for a week, we’ve been back and forth to Perth for less than 48 hours so it has been busy. It’s a real priority ahead of next Saturday to actually take the time to refresh.” They are, at least, enjoying their time together. Many of these players were also involved in last year’s World Cup in the UAE, where they lived under strict Covid regulations. Not so this time, and on Friday Australia ended the requirement for people with Covid to self-isolate, meaning that players who test positive during the tournament will still be able to play.

“It’s a totally different dynamic,” Cummins said. “The team went out for dinner on Saturday and we were actually chatting about it, saying ‘This is the first time we’ve done this in about three years.’ It’s one of the main things we all love about playing for our country – we get to go and see new places, experience different things. Last year we had a lot of fun but it was really our group, we didn’t see anyone. Not even hotel staff, we were just by ourself.”

During that time together – aided, in Australia’s case, by the success they shared – bonds were formed and strengthened, and they have clicked back into place since the squad reassembled here. “Even the intangibles of guys going and playing golf together or going out for dinner, those things do add up, they do make a difference,” Cummins said.

“I think T20 is a format where if someone has an off game or two, you can’t just [let them] wallow in it. You need to pick them up straight away. Having a really tight group is important because it means you can go out and be fearless and brave, and you know your teammates have got your back. I thought that was a big part of it last year.”

Australia might benefit from that togetherness in another way when Aaron Finch stands down as white-ball captain after this tournament. Cummins, already captain of the Test side, said that taking on the job would be “something I’d be open to” – on the condition that he would not be expected to play every game. Instead, he is advocating a novel kind of group captaincy: “We’ve got some great leaders in the team, we all get along great, and I think the style of almost everyone in the team is really similar, so I think it would be really seamless.”