Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes weren't quite nailed on for the T20 World Cup earlier this year. Moeen didn't get a single game when a full-strength England squad had visited India in March for a five-match T20I series, which was essentially a dry run for the World Cup. Heck, Woakes wasn't even part of that touring squad, flying back home after the Test leg. Seven months later, both Moeen and Woakes are at the forefront of England's T20 success. Who woulda thunk it?
In England's opener against the West Indies, the defending champions, in Dubai, Moeen and Woakes set up the game beautifully for their side in the powerplay. England moved to Abu Dhabi for this game, facing Bangladesh for the first time ever in T20 cricket, but it was just the same drill for Moeen and Woakes.
The very first delivery from Moeen gripped and turned. The right-handed Liton Das then tried to throw Moeen off his length by dashing out of the crease and drilling him for back-to-back fours in the first over. The Bangladeshi fans in the little picket fence enclosures beyond the boundary were bouncing in joy, with the DJ belting out "Char Chokka Hoi Hoi".
Moeen, however, silenced them in his next over, when he extracted just enough turn and dip to have Liton sky a slog-sweep. Next ball, Mohammad Naim stepped out to him - but he didn't meet the pitch of the ball either, plopping a simple catch to mid-on. Moeen punched his fist in triumph.
At the other end, Woakes, the other Birmingham boy, kept slamming the Abu Dhabi track with the heavy lengths and control that has been his calling card in 50-over cricket. No width, no loose balls, just immaculate line-and-length bowling to deny the batters access to the shorter boundary.
When Woakes bounded in and dug one into the pitch, he found sharp lift from a back of a length to ping Mushfiqur Rahim's glove. Woakes then attacked Shakib Al Hasan's ribs in the last over of the powerplay and had him flapping a weak pull to short fine leg, where Adil Rashid completed a sprawling catch.
Bangladesh had fallen to 26 for 3 in the sixth over, and despite some late blows from Nasum Ahmed and Mahedi Hasan, they wound up scrounging only 124 for 9. Woakes and Moeen had dominated the powerplay so much that England even had the cushion of experimenting at the death with Rashid, who was their powerplay spinner in India.
Moeen didn't return to the attack after the powerplay salvo, but Woakes did for the 12th over, in which he let rip a Mark Wood-esque lifter and had Afif Hossain falling over in clumsy fashion. Ironically, Woakes would've been less likely to play on Wednesday had Wood recovered sufficiently from his ankle strain. Figures of 4-0-12-1, without giving up a single boundary, on a scorching afternoon in Abu Dhabi was some shift from Woakes. Since his return to England's T20I side after six years in June 2021, Woakes has figures of 13-0-47-3 in four matches at a believe-it-or-not economy rate of 3.61.
At the innings break, Woakes acknowledged that the recent game-time has benefitted him. "The warm-up games I didn't feel too good, but coming in the last couple of games have gone nicely. In this format sometimes it's just a matter of the luck of the draw, but I'm feeling better the more I play, but as a unit we've really gone well today so happy with that.
"The [Abu Dhbai] wicket is a little bit two-paced, the IPL was before and the wickets are probably a little bit tired occasionally. If you hit the length hard, you get that little bit of variable bounce. And batters obviously can't guess what's happening off the surface."
Both Woakes and Moeen kept banging it away on that length, and according to ESPNcricinfo's logs, they didn't float a single ball on the fuller side. Their stints in the IPL have also helped their game and confidence. Moeen's all-round brilliance was central to Chennai Super Kings winning the title earlier this month, also in the Emirates, while Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting has always rated Woakes highly, even when he wasn't so by England in T20Is.
Liam Livingstone and Tymal Mills, who also weren't part of England's T20 World Cup plans not too long ago, contributed handsomely with the ball as Eoin Morgan's men asserted themselves as bona fide title contenders along with Pakistan. Just in case anyone needed reminding: beware of this England white-ball side.