T20 World Cup: How the IPL helped Phil Salt mature as a matchwinner

The England opener played the waiting game before exploding against Shepherd

Phil Salt breaks loose against the West Indies (photo: Getty Images)
Phil Salt breaks loose against the West Indies (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Can Phil Salt be the game-changer for England in this T20 World Cup? While one will find out in less than 10 days if Jos Buttler’s men could be the first team to win back-to-back titles, but the keeper-batter summoned a newfound maturity in his batting to guide them to a tricky chase against hosts West Indies on the opening day of Super Eights.

The ongoing World T20, after being a stop-start affair during the US leg, shows the promise of finally coming to life on the home stretch in the Caribbean. The England opener’s unbeaten innings of 87 off 47 balls have grabbed the eyeballs despite it being a hectic time for the sports fan. While Salt’s 30 runs off Romario Shepherd in the 16th over (three sixes and as many fours) was simply breathtaking, there was much more to his innings than that.

Looking back at the last five months or so, one has to admit that the IPL sojourn had been a catalyst to his overall growth as a cricketer. When Kolkata Knight Riders drafted him in as a like-for-like replacement for Jason Roy in the eleventh hour, the management had done their homework – but Salt exceeded all expectations. A total of 435 runs from the 12 league games he played saw Salt gelling with Sunil Narine as an unstoppable opening pair in the powerplays, something which helped champions KKR  gain early momentum in their campaign.

It was a different ballgame in India though with flat wickets, the impact player rule and the cushion of a deep batting line-up. With England looking lighter on batting than the 2022 edition and their finishers short on game time, Salt realised he had to take his innings deep at St Lucia if England hoped to breach the 181-run target.    

After racing to 35 off 20 balls after six overs, Salt turned respectful to the West Indies finger spinners and looked content in knocking the ball around. He then picked up Romario Shepherd as the weak link to attack – despatching all the deliveries to either boundary or six with some calculated hitting over cover, long off and upper-cutting over Pooran’s head. Once defined as a leg-side slogger, Salt looked like a complete package now.

A significant aspect of England’s prep for the World Cup revolved around the fact they had taken Kieron Pollard on board as a batting consultant and have benefitted immensely from his knowledge of the home conditions. The knowledge about dimensions at St. Lucia for example : the square boundary towards the grass banks and the party stand measuring 63 metres while the longer one towards the Johnson Charles Stand was 72 metres certainly helped Jos Buttler’s men.

Admitting about the lengthy conversations with Pollard, Salt said later: ‘’We've spoken a lot about taking 8s from one side to take 12s from the other - and that’s 200,’’ before adding: ‘’It sounds so simple to say it, but [it was about] putting that into action. I knew I had slowed down. I knew I hadn’t got much strike but I knew that if I just got through that period, we would be in a good position and I could have a good dip, [take a] good calculated risk at the seamers.’’

In other words, it was all about game sense and Salt says he is in the right space to mature after being in international cricket for a number of years. ‘’The more you play, the more you feel secure in yourself and in your game,’’ he said. ‘’It’s probably one of those things that you feel more confident to do. I feel like when you’re new to a side, you’re thinking, what if I get out now? but I feel like once you're a little bit more settled, you can play that role and take the onus on your own a little bit more.’’

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