England narrowly dodge the curse of an ex with a point to prove
England (Source: AP)
The curse of the ex is a concept that any sports fan who follows a team will be familiar with. Former players that move on to pastures new will return to haunt you and seldom in a good way. I doubt that it has any genuine statistical validity, but my experience is that the sight of an ex - Watford player returning, normally guarantees a goal against us. For Middlesex, runs or wickets will normally be nailed on for the opposition. Chris Rogers at Somerset or Ryan Higgins at Gloucestershire returning to Lords spring to mind.
It may not work the same way with coaches or course, but New Zealand supporters will have shrugged at the inevitability of Brendon McCullum doing a number on them in this summer’s Test series. England fans likewise will have twitched nervously at the prospect of facing McCullum’s predecessor Chris Silverwood in their must win World T20 group game against Sri Lanka in Sydney.
Whilst the appointment of McCullum for Tests has proven to be inspired, the ECB must shoulder a very large part of the blame for the sad end to Silverwood’s tenure. As a relatively inexperienced coach, they had heaped upon him absolute power with responsibility not just for England’s Test and limited-overs teams but for selection too. Having led England through the eye of the Covid storm, the Ashes exposed just how overwhelmed he had become and thus his demise was inevitable.
In hindsight his complete autocracy seems plain daft, but as we know hindsight always has 20/20 vision. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of hill though and so it proved for Silverwood, overburdened as England’s all format coach and selector, he infused into the misfiring Sri Lankans a new sense of purpose and belief. His new charges stormed to Asia Cup victory winning all three of their games in the Super Four stage and then sprung a surprise by beating Pakistan in the final.
This World T20 has thrown up enough surprises too and whilst all the smart money will have been on England’s superior firepower, the ‘curse of the ex’ striking in Sydney could not be discounted. As it was, England prevailed…just. Jos Buttler had marshalled his troops superbly against New Zealand and did so again against Sri Lanka. Chris Silverwood’s men, led by Pathum Nissanka rattled along in the powerplay to 54 for 1, but then ground, if not to a halt, at least to a very laboured 141 for 8. Sam Curran and Adil Rashid, the stand out bowlers as the brakes were firmly slammed on the Sri Lankan innings.
England vs Sri Lanka (Source: AP)
In response, England positively flew out the blocks in their powerplay to be sixteen runs ahead of their opponents and with their opening partnership intact too. Once both openers had fallen to the excellent Hasaranga though, with the exception of a resolute Ben Stokes, England had a collective attack of the collywobbles and the ‘curse of the ex’ looked a distinct possibility. Buttler’s nails were bitten to the quick and English fans were darkly muttering ‘surely not?’, until with two balls to spare Chris Woakes calmed fluttering hearts and the battle was done.
After the upset against Ireland and the narrowly averted disaster of Sydney, captain Jos Buttler had to remind his charges that reaching the WT20 semi finals is a fine achievement. Just six months into his leadership role, he and his team are just two victories away from a potential World Cup win.
When England stand toe to toe with India in Adelaide on Thursday in a delightfully matched encounter, they will know that recent form favours India. There will be no ‘ex’ to haunt them though and that might just provide the extra confidence required to go one stage further than they did in last year’s semi final against New Zealand.