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‘You’ve got to back yourself’: Curran energising England’s World Cup charge

In a World Cup group containing Rashid Khan and Josh Hazlewood, the world’s two top-ranked Twenty20 bowlers, as well as such luminaries as Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, one man now reigns supreme. It is the perhaps unlikely figure of Sam Curran, who has become for England a source of energy and also inspiration, and who as of Tuesday night had taken more wickets in the Super 12 stage than any other player, and as many as Australia’s three famous seamers combined.

And he is not only sweeping through the lower order: in Tuesday’s crucial game against New Zealand in Brisbane he accounted for Finn Allen and Glenn Phillips, two of the Black Caps’ most explosive and dangerous batters. In England’s opener he dismissed Afghanistan’s two top scorers, Ibrahim Zadran and Usman Ghani (before sweeping through the lower order).

But the moment at the Gabba that really symbolised his value to the team did not come when he was bowling. The sheer enthusiasm with which he celebrated catching Jimmy Neesham proved contagious – despite taking the wicket of Kane Williamson in the previous over England had started to look a little short of ideas, but that catch was swiftly followed by a couple more wickets, and with them the match.

“It’s just excitement,” he said of that celebration. “When you’re out there and there’s a big crowd and you know there’s a game on the line, those moments really get you going.”

Curran is one of those players who flourish in the heat of the big moments, and has now become vital – in both senses of the word, essential and vivacious – in a team that after the shock of losing to Ireland and the washout against Australia suddenly stand three victories and some complicated net run rate permutations from the title.

After Tuesday night he has played as many T20 internationals in 2022 as in the rest of his career put together. Injuries have sometimes held him back, most notably the stress fracture that ruled him out of last year’s World Cup, but he has also significantly improved, particularly as a death bowler.

“You’ve got to try and enjoy it,” he said. “It is just a great tournament and a great standard of cricket. It really tests you, and you’ve got to just back yourself in those moments. I’ve done it many times, but I guess I’m doing it more often now. Jos [Buttler] and I will have a conversation about what I’m most comfortable with and about what the surface is doing, and Mo [Ali] will be involved too, but at the end of the day it is coming out of your hand so you are the one who has got to execute. They give me great confidence and it is on me to deliver.”

It was Curran who was bowling when Phillips hoiked to Chris Jordan at long-on, a moment that felt like it decided the game. And it was Curran who was bowling when the game was actually decided, the run rate slipping out of New Zealand’s reach in the final over, both arms thrown into the air in another celebration. Now England sit level on points with the Kiwis and Australia at the top of the Group One table, and by the time they play Sri Lanka on Saturday will know precisely what they need to do to reach the semi-finals.

“With the position we’re in we’re hoping Australia lose on Friday night, but all we’re focused on is putting in a good performance,” Curran said. “The last week has been quite strange. It felt like we were just training and there wasn’t much going on, with all the rain in Melbourne. But now we’re going to Sydney and it’s real game time, I think. It’s almost like that quarter-final feeling, which I’ve never been involved in.”

All available evidence suggests he will take to it pretty well.