Jos Buttler backs England to learn lessons from 50-over World Cup debacle

Pakistan

Jos Buttler, England’s captain, has backed his players to put the disappointment of their 50-over World Cup defence to one side as they set out to retain the 20-over version they won in Australia two winters ago. However, he insisted that their failures in India before Christmas could not be attributed solely to a “lack of clarity” from the team management.

Despite being considered among the favourites for the 2023 World Cup, England lost six of their first seven matches – including a nine-wicket loss to New Zealand in the tournament opener; a historic maiden defeat to Afghanistan, and a record 229-run loss to South Africa – and seven out of ten in all. Only a pair of late wins against the Netherlands and Pakistan spared them the humiliation of having to pre-qualify for the 2027 Champions Trophy.

Buttler himself endured a poor campaign with the bat, making 138 runs at 15.33 in nine appearances, with some critics suggesting his own struggle for form had impacted his communication within the squad. However, speaking to Sky Sports in the wake of the washed-out first T20I against Pakistan, he defended his leadership, and insisted that England’s problem had been simple: “We just didn’t play well enough”.

“The big learning for me is to try not to confuse freedom with maybe a lack of clarity,” he said after the abandonment at Headingley. “Sometimes you’re trying to let players play with freedom and you don’t want to step in too much. But you have to make sure you don’t miss things.

“Maybe [there could have been] more communication at times, to make sure people are clear on what is needed from them. But certainly there are times where I look back and say I’d probably make similar decisions in certain instances, and for whatever reason, they just don’t work out.

“Even if there was a lack of clarity, or whatever you want to call it, I’d still expect us to perform better than we did. It’s easy to look at results and say there are certain things you would do differently or say differently. We just didn’t play well enough.

“It’s a chapter in the book, it was obviously a really disappointing World Cup and your pride and confidence gets dented a bit, but time moves on, and this a really exciting opportunity now with this World Cup coming up.”

In response to his former captain and fellow 2019 World Cup winner, Eoin Morgan, Buttler was bullish when asked whether England would have the wherewithal to bounce back from adversity in their 20-over defence – much as they were forced to do after losing to Ireland in a rain-affected group match at the MCG in the 2022 campaign.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “You guys are sat here talking as if no-one knows what’s going on. I’m pretty sure there’s some experienced players in there who know how cricket works, and know how to play T20 cricket.

“I don’t think it’s about trying to reinvent the wheel, or trying to give people messages that they’ve never heard before. It’s about playing good cricket. In tournament cricket, you’ve got to play the crunch moments really well. You’ve got to come back from adversity really well. You have to read the game and play well, and be able to adapt.

“There might be games where you need to score in excess of 200, there might be games where you need to scrap and try and defend 140, on a wicket that’s holding up and it’s tough for batting.”

England gained a valuable insight into the tournament’s likely conditions when they faced the hosts West Indies in a hard-fought five-match T20I series before Christmas. West Indies won the decider to claim the series 3-2, but only after England had fought back from a 2-0 deficit. Their stand-out performer was Phil Salt, who cemented his status as Buttler’s opening partner with back-to-back centuries, and has since carried that form into an impressive IPL campaign with Kolkata Knight Riders.

“We’ve got a really nice blended squad actually,” Buttler said. “We’ve got a lot of experience but some guys who are really on the upward curve, the likes of Phil Salt, Will Jacks and Harry Brook, who is still very early in his international career. Those guys are really trending in the right direction and pushing this team forward.”

Early in his international career, Salt had a tendency to give his innings away after powerful starts. However, a mid-tournament run of three fifties and a 48 in five innings, all scored at strike-rates between 189 and 342, confirmed his new-found ability to align power with endurance.

“One of the great things about him is he’s got that insatiable appetite to learn,” Buttler said. “He’s not afraid of asking questions. He’s always wanting feedback. At every training session, he’s clearly trying to work on something to improve.

“Personally, I see he’s really improved his off-side game,” he added. “He’s always been very, very strong through the leg-side. But watching him back in the IPL especially, I thought he was so hard to bowl at, because he scored so freely through the off-side and he’s never going to lose that leg side game as well.

“One of his things in the past would be those scores of 30 off 15, or 25 off 10, but he’s been able to go on and really extend those innings, which show great maturity. He can be one of the real key players for us.”

England’s campaign gets underway against Scotland on June 4 in Bridgetown, the venue where they played the first of their five T20Is in December. England have since enlisted the help of Kieron Pollard as a batting consultant for their campaign, and Buttler is confident the team’s preparations would enable them to give a good account of themselves.

“The conditions out there, the wickets can be a little bit slower,” Buttler said. “Spin will play a big part out there, as well as extra pace. I think the wind is a big factor on those island grounds too. But one thing that people will have to react quickly to in that World Cup is a very early start, with some 10 o’clock or 10.30 starts. A lot of the time you’re playing night cricket in T20s, so it’s trying to learn from that.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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