Can Phil Salt turn out to be England’s go-to man at the top in the 2024 T20 WC?

Phil Salt in action
Phil Salt in action (PC: X)

One of the perks of being in the field of cricket is that you get the opportunity to watch matches all across the globe – be it on Television or while covering it from the ground. The Sussex-Hampshire Vitality Blast game played in 2019 was one such encounter, where you had to follow it with a sense of purpose to pen a short report. In that match, Phil Salt, a 22-year-old youngster from Sussex, composed a quick-fire innings of 73.

There was a sense of adventure in the way Salt played that day. And it seemed as if the buccaneering opener’s methods had some similarities with a player who plied his trade 31 miles away from Sussex, at Surrey. Around four years have gone by since that innings. Salt hasn’t just gone on to play for England in limited-overs cricket, but intriguingly, he replaced Jason Roy at Kolkata Knight Riders, after the experienced cricketer withdrew from the 2024 IPL season. More importantly, he went on to taste success by accumulating 434 runs at a strike-rate of 182.

So, on expected lines, the expectations were high when England fielded their playing XI in the opening game of the 2024 T20 World Cup. Unfortunately, barring a useful hand versus Australia, Salt didn’t have much to show in the first few games. Here, it has to be noted that T20 cricket is a fast-paced, unpredictable format. In that context, while taking more risks, a batter can lose his touch.

Salt, though, returned to form in the nick of time with a 47-ball 87 in the Super 8 encounter against the West Indies. On the face, a strike-rate of close to 200 is an indicator of a batter who played with bravado right through his innings. Just scratch the surface a little more, and you will observe that wasn’t exactly the case. Salt did slow down a bit during the middle phase of the innings, with his score reading 49 off 37 deliveries at the end of the 15th over.  Subsequently, he picked the right bowler to go after – the wayward Romario Shepherd was smacked for 30 in an over.

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Phil Salt in ICC T20 WC 2024
Phil Salt in ICC T20 WC 2024 (PC: X)

Perhaps there is more to Salt’s innings than just slowing down against some disciplined spin bowling? It might have come down to some timely advice from Kieron Pollard, the former Windies skipper, who is working with the England line-up during this World Cup. Here’s what Salt had to say about Pollard’s insights: “Pollard’s brought a lot to the group, but I’d say the most valuable thing I’ve taken so far is constructing that run chase,” Salt said at the press conference after the West Indies game.

“We’ve spoken a lot about taking eights from one side to take twelves from the other and that’s 200. So, it’s really simple, it sounds so simple to say it but it’s about putting it into action. I knew that If I got through that [slow] period, then we were going to be in a good position and I can have a good dip, a good calculated risk at the seamers.”

If the openers provide a quick start in the PowerPlay, it sets up a framework for the middle order to take it forward. Even if you travel back in time, in 2010, England’s T20 World Cup triumph was based on Craig Kieswetter’s breezy starts at the top of the order. Buttler and Alex Hales turbo-charged their engines at the right time in 2022. While Roy, whose game has some resemblance with that of Salt’s, was England’s go-to man in the 50-over World Cup 2019.  The England camp would hope and trust the pair of Salt and Buttler, the skipper, to come good in the all-important USA-England clash on Sunday and at the business end of the tournament.

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