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It never rains but pours as England face T20 defence well undercooked

England’s preparations were interrupted by rain (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

England’s preparations were interrupted by rain (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

England’s preparations were interrupted by rain (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

At one stage here, warm-ups having been abandoned as drizzle turned to windy downpour, only Jofra Archer remained, tearing across the increasingly sodden outfield in a series of shuttle runs.

That, you thought, would be all England need: their premier and most fragile bowler slipping and sliding his way to a twisted ankle or jarred knee while going through the gears ahead of a washed-out game he was not even slated to play. Thankfully, either Archer or one of England’s medical staff saw sense and called the exercise off.

And so, a few hours later, did the umpires with this match; the second in three between England and Pakistan to bite the bullet without a single delivery being bowled. The forecast for Thursday’s Fourth T20I at the Kia Oval is stormy, too, and England are now in danger of boarding Friday’s flight to the Caribbean for their World Cup defence worryingly undercooked.

You must have sympathy for the leadership duo of Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler, whose futures as coach and captain rest so heavily on the next month. Keen to learn from the disjointed build up that preceded the disastrous 50-over campaign last year, the ECB had made the gutsy call to bring their IPL stars back early to hand Mott a full squad for the entirety of England’s only warm-up series, angering the franchises in the process. Best laid plans and all that.

Should England go on to defend the trophy they won under Mott and Buttler less than two years ago, we will no doubt hear of the benefits of this wet week: of the camaraderie fostered among a 15-man squad that, unlike the provisional 50-over equivalent, did not live in fear of gatecrashers; of the clarity of roles established in meeting rooms even as they could not be enacted on turf.

The current upshot, though, is that 80 of 120 prescribed preparatory overs have been lost, with who knows how many more to follow, and those who have not been at the IPL are short on cricket. Some, like Harry Brook, have at least been hammering runs in a different format in county cricket, but Adil Rashid has played one T20 since February 11, Mark Wood nothing at all since the Test tour to India ended in March and Archer one game in a year.

Wood had been due to play in Archer’s place here, while Sam Curran was pencilled in to replace Buttler, who had gone home to be with wife Louise as they wait on the birth of their third child.

Mark Wood had been due to play on Tuesday (Getty Images)

Mark Wood had been due to play on Tuesday (Getty Images)

Heading to The Oval, then, England must decide whether to get those players into the action or return to the side that won at Edgbaston on Saturday in an attempt to further fine-tune the first XI.

The good news is that if ever there was a World Cup to arrive with room to grow, this might be it. The tournament structure is initially forgiving: in a five-team group that includes Scotland, Oman and Namibia (as well as Australia), England must only finish in the top two to qualify, and pre-seeding of the following round means it does not matter whether that is in first or second. The alternate view, of course, is that Tuesday’s opener against Scotland now looks the kind of banana skin they have slipped on more than once before.

It is worth pointing out, though, that no team’s preparation is going brilliantly. India are already fretting about fatigue following a full IPL, which finished only on Sunday. Pakistan have suffered the same washouts as England. Australia have flown early to the Caribbean, but with only nine players in situ played a warm-up game against Namibia overnight with coaches and selectors making up the numbers in the field. South Africa, minus their IPL headliners, have just been swept 3-0 by co-hosts West Indies, who are perhaps tracking best of all.

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