International Cricket

Eng vs Sco – T20 World Cup 2024 – From punter to protagonist – Phil Salt returns to Kensington Oval

Fourteen years ago, in May 2010, Phil Salt was a kid in the stands at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, watching England’s cricketers parading their first piece of global silverware, after victory over Australia in the final of that year’s World T20. Now he’s back as an England star in his own right, seeking to launch his team’s defence of the same trophy at the same venue, when they take on Scotland in Bridgetown on Tuesday morning.

By his own admission, Salt’s is not a homecoming to rival that of Jofra Archer or Chris Jordan, the two born-and-bred Bajans in England’s anticipated starting XI. Even so, having spent six formative years in Barbados – honing his love of cricket from the age of nine to 15, while his father Chris was working as a property developer – he acknowledges it’s an extraordinary turn of events.

“To be back here and have the opportunity to play for England in a World Cup isn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing, but it’s certainly very special,” Salt said. “Everything about the place suits me. Pretty laid-back, a lot of cricket, a lot of sport, still got a lot of friends on the island. I don’t think there’s too many people that disagree that living in Barbados is a touch. But yeah, I loved it.”

Salt played a small part in England’s T20 World Cup victory in Australia two years ago. After coming into the starting XI as a replacement for the injured Dawid Malan, he did not bat in the semi-final against India as Jos Buttler and Alex Hales romped to a ten-wicket victory, then made 10 from 9 balls at No.3 in a low-scoring final against Pakistan.

Now, however, is very much his moment. Six months ago, he nailed his audition to be Buttler’s regular opening partner with back-to-back centuries against West Indies in Grenada and Trinidad, then ran hot at a crucial juncture of Kolkata Knight Riders’ recent IPL triumph, with a run of 290 runs from 144 balls in five innings, including 89 not out from 47 balls against Lucknow Super Giants.

Salt had always had the ability to start an innings strongly – two years ago, he marked his T20I debut (coincidentally, also at Bridgetown) with 57 from 24 balls. And yet, he recognises his game has gone to a new level in recent months, to the extent that he enters this tournament as one of the most dangerous batters on display.

“It’s been a combination of things,” he said. “The opportunity to gain more experience in international cricket has definitely been the biggest part of it in my own head. I’ve also had a look at where I’m strong, where I’m not, used the analysis, learnt from the coaches, to make those movements in my game.

“I can’t put my finger on any one thing, but it’s maybe a mindset shift, that I want to be the person winning more games for England. You like to think [that people fear you] as an opening batter, but the moment you recognise that and you start thinking, ‘I’m the big guy I am’, the game’s always going to bite you. I try not to think about anything like that and keep it one ball at a time.”

Another key facet of his growth, he says, has been the opportunity to bat alongside his England captain in the Hundred – an alliance that has been instrumental in Manchester Originals reaching the final for two years running. In 2022, Salt’s tally of 353 runs in ten innings was second only to Malan (377), while his 232 the following year may have been dwarfed by Buttler’s haul of 391, but they came at a blistering strike-rate of 194.95.

The pair reprised their antics in an opening stand of 82 in 6.2 overs against Pakistan at The Oval on Thursday – England’s final warm-up ahead of the Scotland encounter. Though Salt admitted their partnership had taken a while to click, he felt the dynamic was now similar to the one he had enjoyed in the Vitality Blast with his former Sussex captain, and now England selector, Luke Wright.

“[Luke] liked to take a few balls. So, my role at the time was just to get us off to a flyer,” Salt said. “That probably stood me in good stead for batting with someone like Jos.

“We do have different styles. In my career I’ve always been the aggressor and I suppose I am the aggressor early on in this partnership. I feel like we both showcased it pretty well at The Oval the other night. I didn’t get a flyer, but we sort of hung in and then Jos went and then we dovetailed nicely.

“It’s good because we both communicate a lot out there and we realise that when one goes, we feed the strike to the other person, so there’s no ego about it. It’s whoever goes first. We just communicate and it sounds really simple, but I’ve batted with a lot of people and it’s not always the case. So, it’s nice when you have that connection with your partner.”

It remains to be seen whether it’s a partnership that can carry England all the way to their third T20 World Cup title. But, auspiciously for Salt, when they won the first of those back in 2010, it was once again the opening partnership that laid the foundations for everything that followed. As the impressionable youngster in the stands remembers well.

“Craig Kieswetter was definitely one [role-model],” Salt said, recalling the Somerset opener who burst to prominence alongside Michael Lumb, after the pair were hastily thrown together on the eve of the tournament, and contributed a match-winning half-century in the final.

“He was a bit of an unknown at the time and then he came out, and I was in awe of him. I thought he was brilliant, he took some incredible catches and the way he played, he was certainly someone I tried to model myself on at the time. I watched a lot of good cricket here. People like Chris Gayle … when I was a kid, anybody who hit the ball hard or kept, I’d watch them on YouTube and just try and try and emulate them.”

And though he played down any similarities between the class of 2010 and the team he’s fronting up for now, Salt did recall the highlight of his day out at that original final. If he gets to emulate it this time around, he really will have fulfilled his childhood dream.

“Colly [Paul Collingwood] came past up this stand here – the Hall and Griffith where I was sat upstairs watching the final – with the trophy and said, ‘here, touch it while you can’. So, I got a touch of the trophy that day. That’s the thing that always sticks with me when I think about that day.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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