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T20 World Cup: England have lost some of their aura after loss to South Africa

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No one was panicking after England surrendered their unbeaten T20 World Cup record to South Africa on Saturday. And everyone was trying to put on a brave face for Jason Roy after his potentially tournament-ending calf injury. But the double whammy was hardly ideal preparation for Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand.

When Eoin Morgan’s side lifted the 50-over World Cup in 2019, they timed their run to perfection, overcoming group-stage defeats by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia to win successive matches against New Zealand, India, Australia and the New Zealanders again in a hair-raising final.

This time, a team that had already begun the tournament without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes – two of the heroes from that Lord’s thriller – has in the past week also lost fast bowler Tymal Mills and now, in all likelihood, Roy. Just as significantly, England have shed a little of the aura they had spent the previous fortnight so ruthlessly cultivating. They are hardly unravelling, but one or two seams are starting to fray.

Jason Roy's injury has rocked England's preparations for their semi-final against New Zealand

Jason Roy’s injury has rocked England’s preparations for their semi-final against New Zealand

Roy got injured in the South Africa loss which ended England's unbeaten run in T20 World Cup

Roy got injured in the South Africa loss which ended England’s unbeaten run in T20 World Cup

After the 10-run defeat by South Africa, Morgan exuded his customary calm, and said he was ‘thankful’ his side had spent the last year or two building up a bigger squad: ‘We are going to need those guys possibly in the next game or the final.’ That was certainly the glass-half-full approach.

But if the loss of Mills – a canny operator at the death, but with a competition economy-rate of eight – is surmountable, the absence of Roy feels on a different level. The result of yesterday’s scan will be known today, with the expectation that England will go into their biggest T20 match since the final against West Indies in Kolkata five and a half years ago with a rejigged top order.

While Jos Buttler has outshone every other batsman in the competition, Roy has been the second-most important cog in England’s line-up.

Between them, the opening pair have scored 363 runs from 243 balls, hitting 29 fours and 18 sixes. The rest of their team-mates put together have managed 253 from 206, with 20 and 12. No one except the openers have reached 50. Even taking into account the advantage of batting in the powerplay, when only two fielders are allowed outside the inner ring for the first six overs, that is quite a discrepancy.

Captain Eoin Morgan remained calm after the defeat and said England would have to lean on their squad against New Zealand

Captain Eoin Morgan remained calm after the defeat and said England would have to lean on their squad against New Zealand

So far, England have not had to respond to a Buttler failure – his lowest score has been 18 in a small chase against Bangladesh – let alone the absence of his partner. And while those two have been smashing opening bowlers to all parts, England have looked nigh on invincible. Had Roy not pulled up on Saturday, they might easily have beaten South Africa.

Yet one of the consequences of the openers’ success has been a lack of opportunity for others. Jonny Bairstow, Roy’s likeliest replacement, has a top score of 16 in five innings, while Dawid Malan’s strike-rate has been a modest 111 – the lowest among England’s batsmen. Eoin Morgan has struggled for fluency too.

Liam Livingstone has batted only twice, though he did look in punishing form when hitting South Africa’s fast bowler Kagiso Rabada for three sixes in a row in Sharjah, and Moeen Ali just three times. Sam Billings may now have to play his first innings of the tournament in a semi-final.

The bowling is less of a concern, though the perils of bringing in a new player after four unchanged games were clear when Mark Wood – in for Mills – conceded 47 in his four overs against the South Africans.

Roy's injury means England head into their biggest T20 match in five years with a rejigged top order

Roy’s injury means England head into their biggest T20 match in five years with a rejigged top order

When England last won the T20 World Cup, under Paul Collingwood’s captaincy in the Caribbean in 2010, they made only one change in seven matches, when Kevin Pietersen flew home for the birth of his first child, and was replaced by Ravi Bopara. England fed off the familiarity, all the way to the trophy.

Now, they must consider whether to risk Wood against the New Zealanders after the punishment he took at the hands of Rassie van der Dussen, or whether to hand a first game in the World Cup to David Willey, who offers new-ball, left-arm swing but not the death options provided by Mills.

From nowhere, England are facing questions. If they are to add the T20 World Cup to the 50-over trophy, they are going to have to dig deep this week for the answers.

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