As with the Test and ODI series, South Africa took the early lead before England came back to win the second and third T20Is, taking the series 2-1. That doesn’t convey how closely fought the series was though, with margins of defeat being one run, two runs and five balls. This has been one of the more memorable bilateral T20I series in recent times, with high scores forcing bowlers to be at the top of their game. That, in turn, has produced a stellar exhibition of T20 skills, perfect practice for the World Cup in November.
The order of England’s batting lineup, however, remains debated. It’s not for a lack of skill – the proficiency of white ball hitters has only been on the rise since 2015. Jason Roy’s opening spot is secure but beyond him there remain arguments for a reshuffled batting order.
Jos Buttler is England’s best finisher, but his capabilities as an opener are extensive too. In a 120 ball format, it makes sense to front-load with your best batsmen. But a Buttler failure as an opener leaves potential room for a middle-order exposure that would call for a finisher in the mould of Buttler. The first T20I was an example of that. The third T20I supported the counter-argument, wherein his 57 propelled England forward to chase down 223.
England have the opportunity to have a flexible middle-order based on specific matchups against opposition bowlers. The main example of this is Moeen Ali, a batsman destructive against spin in the middle-overs. Pushing him up the order to target spinners could provide the boost needed ahead of the final overs.
Eoin Morgan was superb throughout the series – his 57* off 22 balls, with seven sixes was a perfect example of that. It also justified why he should be kept down as a finisher. Keeping Morgan for the end allows more leeway for error in the middle-order. Naturally, Ben Stokes should be sixth in the order, someone to fight out fires in case of early collapses.
Naturally, there doesn’t have to be a set template. T20s are a volatile format that demands fluidity rather than the rigidity of ODIs. Roy, Buttler, Bairstow, Ali, Morgan and Stokes are a powerful top six. If England can get their order right though, they’ll be able to find better balance in the lower order. At the end, it may be a moot point given everyone’s ability to hit hard. But to build on their successes in 2019, England would be well served to play it smarter.