England show of character
As happened with West Indies, no one thought England would gain a foothold in the finals. © Getty Images

19 needed off the last over. Ben Stokes to Carlos Brathwaite. A full-length delivery on leg stump. Brathwaite scythes it over deep fine-leg. What followed it was even more devastating for the English fans. Brathwaite plundered three more sixes. And we all had a brain-freeze for a few seconds. Honestly, barring Caribbean fans, no one expected Brathwaite to go all guns blazing in a time when the entire world stood still (did even the West Indian fans expect?). Stokes was left bewildered. He was on his knees. What he envisaged 4 deliveries ago turned into a nightmare. However, let’s not take away anything from England. They displayed magnificent show of character; not only throughout the tournament, but since the calamitous ICC Cricket World 2015. Also read: Marlon Samuels, Carlos Brathwaite massacre England as West Indies win ICC T20 World Cup 2016

They were stormed out of last year’s 50-over extravaganza Down Under, losing to Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and ‘then’ underdogs Bangladesh. There were rounds of posts ‘Rest in peace, England cricket’ on social media. People were having fun mocking the English cricketers. How can a nation that invented cricket experience such a drastic downfall? Eoin Morgan was criticised for not keeping the team motivated. Every decision he made backfired and turned out to be a blunder for his team. Along with Morgan, emerging players such as Alex Hales, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali were part of the team that made headlines for the wrong reasons.

ECB knew they had to look for a solution to this perennial problem. The selectors had to gamble and take some brave steps. Stalwarts like Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, James Anderson and Stuart Broad were left out of the shorter formats. ECB eventually chose to approach attacking brand of cricket and made a final verdict to keep Morgan as the captain.

England cricket was in a rebuilding phase. Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Ben Stokes, David Willey and Adil Rashid were drafted into the squad. Though it was an inexperienced team, it had a variety of combinations: an off-spinner, a leg-spinner, T20 power-hitters, athletic fielders, and to make the team more formidable, a bunch of traditionalists. Unfortunately, with the number of debacles England encountered in the major ICC events, no one took notice of the young and belligerent English brigade.

England’s new chapter started with three back-to-back limited-overs series win against England, Australia and Pakistan post ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. However, they lost to South Africa just before heading into this year’s edition of World T20. Overall, England emerged triumphant in 5 out of the 7 T20Is they played since it turned a new leaf. Players like Root, Moeen, Billings, Liam Plunkett and James Vince received Player of the Match awards. Slowly but steadily England were marching towards the doorstep of victory. Also read: Eoin Morgan: Ben Stokes devastated after hammering by Carlos Brathwaite in T20 World Cup 2016; England share his pain

As a matter of fact, England and West Indies played the least matches since ICC World T20 2014. And these were the very teams that did not feature in top contention before the start of the tournament. Both teams were overshadowed by the rampant South Africans and former champions Sri Lanka in Group 1 before the tournament. Fans, cricket pundits, Kevin Pietersen, most of them wrote England off. No team had won the World T20 twice, and everyone bet their money on in-form Team India.

Was England even in the picture? No. To be brutally honest, as happened with West Indies, no one thought England would gain a foothold in the final.

Be it Root’s masterclass against South Africa at Wankhede, Willey’s remarkable performance with the ball throughout the tournament, Moeen’s match-winning innings against Afghanistan when the team was in trouble or Roy’s superlative batsmanship in the semi-final against a destructive New Zealand, England have showcased some quality cricket in this T20 spectacle. They might have not won the tournament, but they have undoubtedly won hearts with their spirited effort in T20 World Cup 2016.

Thank you, England cricket team.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @TheCricKnight.)