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England in West Indies: Phil Salt and Adil Rashid star as Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer earmarked for T20 World Cup

Phil Salt secures opening spot at T20 World Cup after back-to-back tons in West Indies as leg-spinner Adil Rashid continues to star; England earmark Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer for next June's tournament; host nation West Indies look a force again after tough period

Phil Salt, Adil Rashid, Rovman Powell

If you judge England's white-ball tour of the West Indies on results, then it was a disappointment. Not as dismal as the 50-over World Cup, of course, but not great.

A 3-2 defeat in the T20 internationals followed a 2-1 defeat in the one-day internationals as Jos Buttler's side lost five of their eight matches in the Caribbean, beaten in two series deciders.

However, there were some positives to take from the T20s as a bulked-up Phil Salt cemented his place at the top of the order, leg-spinner Adil Rashid wove magic, and England gained important intel ahead of next year's T20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA, discovering that six-hitting will be paramount.

Here is what we learned from the five-match T20 series…

Salt adds weight - and a shedload of runs

In the third T20 international in Grenada, Salt became the fifth England men's player to score a century in the format. In the fourth in Trinidad, he became the first to hit two. Back-to-back hundreds - the second of which saw him eclipse the England-record 116 Alex Hales had smoked back in 2014 - has surely guaranteed that Salt will open with Buttler in the T20 World Cup next summer.

I've always thought he was an amazing player. I think he does stuff that not many people can do. To me, you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve achieved it, and all of a sudden he’s away, his international career is flying.
England head coach Matthew Mott on Phil Salt

Salt has been in and around the England XI for some time, with previous skipper Eoin Morgan a big fan of the aggressive way in which he played at the top of the order, but the Lancashire man took that to new levels in the Caribbean during his twin tons, cracking 19 sixes across the two knocks, including an England-record 10 in his 119 from 57 balls in match four.

Salt put his success down to many factors, including working on his off-side game and making mental adjustments, but he also credited bulking up in the gym and trying to take in 3,500 calories a day - much to his partner's dismay. "Getting through [that amount of] calories a day has been a bit of a job. My missus has been raging because the shopping bill has gone through the roof."

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Salt's form has gone through the roof, too, so much so that if Jonny Bairstow is to return to the England XI at the World Cup - he was rested for the West Indies series ahead of the Test tour of India - then that will probably have to come at No 3 in place of Will Jacks.

More magic from leg-spinner Rashid

In a series featuring 120 sixes in five games - 22 of them smashed by Salt - Rashid's figures stood out. The leg-spinner claimed nine wickets in 20 overs at an average of 13.77 and economy rate of 6.20 as he gave a reminder of just how vital he still is for England.

England's Adil Rashid (Associated Press)
Image: England's Adil Rashid was the pick of the bowlers in a six-laden T20 international series in the Caribbean

Figures of 2-11 from four overs in the second T20 came as team-mates Rehan Ahmed and Sam Curran were thumped around the park, while his 2-21 in the series decider gave England a sniff of defending 132 all out before Shai Hope cracked Chris Woakes for the series-sealing six over deep point.

Rashid's fine performances in the West Indies propelled him to the top of the T20I bowling rankings for the first time but did not earn him an IPL contract for 2024, with the 10 franchises surprisingly overlooking him in the auction, a fate that also befell Salt.

The 35-year-old reached the milestones of 100 wickets and 100 matches for England in the Caribbean with Andrew Flintoff calling the bowler "the best in the business at what you do around the world" as he handed him his landmark cap. Buttler's side have a precocious young leg-spinner in Rehan - but it is Rashid, with all his craft and experience, who remains their most important bowler.

England 'fight fire with fire' - but then struggle to adapt

Precisely halfway through the five-match series, things looked grim for England. Overpowered by West Indies' boundary-belting batters, they lost the first two matches and were set a monster target of 223 in the third after the hosts smeared 16 sixes.

But then came a moment of clarity.

England's batsmen Harry Brook, left, and Phil Salt..celebrate defeating West Indies' by seven wickets with one ball remaining during the third T20 cricket match at National Cricket Stadium in Saint George's, Grenada, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Image: England chased 223 to win the third T20 and then cracked a record 267-3 in the third

England had no choice but to "fight fire with fire", as head coach Matthew Mott put it, and over their next two innings they reverted to the aggressive blueprint that had led them to 50-over World Cup glory in 2019 and a T20 World Cup triumph in 2022.

Salt's century and Harry Brook's 24 runs off the final over won England the third match, before, inspired by Salt once more, they mullered 267-3 in game four - a record for England and the second-highest by a full-member nation, behind only Afghanistan's 278-3 vs Ireland. Across 39.5 overs, England plundered 493 runs and 37 sixes.

It was just a shame, then, that they failed to adapt to a much stickier wicket in Trinidad two days later, as they went from 267-3 in one game to 132 all out in the next. Had they eked out another 30-odd runs, they may have well won the game and the series. Mott knows his men can flourish on flat decks, now he will be looking for them to deal with stodgier ones as they prepare for the World Cup.

Stokes and Archer returns a 'given' for World Cup

England must wish they had been able to call on Test captain Ben Stokes in the final T20. It was perfect for him - difficult pitch, difficult situation, a thinking innings needed. He has performed in those circumstances countless times before, including at last year's T20 World Cup when his side were wobbling in the final against Pakistan and in the 2019 50-over World Cup final versus New Zealand.

England's Ben Stokes plays a shot during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match between England and Netherlands in Pune, India , Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Image: Ben Stokes is expected to return for England in next year's T20 World Cup

Stokes is currently rehabbing from knee surgery which he hopes, in the long term, will lead to him being able to perform as an all-rounder again, having been limited largely to batting duties alone over recent times. Stokes' ability to bowl is another reason Mott says it is a given he will be at the T20 World Cup if fit. "Ben, aside from his incredible match-winning ability in every department, gives us a seam bowler in the top six. That gives you so many options with your team balance."

Fast bowler Jofra Archer has been struck down by a number of injuries of late and last played for England in March, on a white-ball tour of Bangladesh. But, like Stokes, the 28-year-old has a T20 World Cup place left open for him. Mott added of Archer: "You've got absolute box-office pace, change of pace, bowl any over in the innings. Him on the park is massive, everyone would agree with that."

Stokes and Archer aside - and possibly Bairstow and Mark Wood, too - Mott says England are "very close" to settling on their squad for the World Cup. From the 15-player group in the Caribbean, batter Ben Duckett and uncapped seamer John Turner look most at risk if/when Stokes and Archer return.

West Indies a rising force

Former West Indies captain Carlos Brathwaite was reluctant to say his nation had "turned a corner" after doing the ODI and T20I double over England, considering they failed to reach the most recent 50-over World Cup, were knocked out in the preliminary round of the 2022 T20 World Cup and sit eighth in the Test rankings - but there do appear to be shoots of recovery, particularly in T20.

West Indies' batsmen Andre Russell and Rovman Powell celebrate runs during their partnership against England in the first T20 cricket match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Image: After a period in the doldrums, West Indies are on the rise

Under skipper Rovman Powell, West Indies have won three T20I series in a row, beating South Africa away and then India and England at home. They have a power-packed and scarily long batting line-up - Jason Holder was slated to come in at No 9 in the first T20 - and spinners in Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie who can restrict opposition, as they did in the final game against England.

Dynamic all-rounder Andre Russell had a mixed series - devastating in parts with bat and ball but out-of-sorts at other times - although he, too, is a match-winner when on-song and captain Powell, another of those brutal six-hitters, seems to have galvanised his group.

Cricket is all the better when West Indies are a force and they look poised to be just that in the World Cup. They know the conditions and have six-hitters and wicket-takers throughout their line-up. While England will fancy claiming their third T20 World Cup title in June, so will the tournament hosts.


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