Jos Buttler: England must ‘earn the right’ to worry about net run-rate

England

With their World Cup hopes once again hanging in the balance, Jos Buttler says that England’s only focus is on victory as they prepare for a critical encounter with Oman in Antigua, and that they will worry about the question of net run-rate only when they’ve earned the right to do so.

With one point from a possible four so far, England go into their penultimate Group B fixture on Thursday on knowing that progression to the Super Eights is no longer in their hands. An opening-match wash-out against Scotland in Barbados was followed on Saturday by a 36-run loss to Australia, whereupon Scotland went on to thrash Oman with 41 balls to spare to open up a near four-point advantage (+2.1 vs -1.8) in the NRR stakes.

England do have another game in hand, with another must-win match against Namibia looming on Saturday. However, their jeopardy is heightened by the fact that Scotland and Australia are due to close out the group stage the following day, by which stage it could be that a narrow defeat for the Scots will still suffice for them to secure their progression.

If that did transpire, then it would be an ignominious way for the 2022 world champions to surrender the title, just as was the case in India barely six months ago, when the 2019 50-over champions bombed out at the group stages with three wins from nine. But Buttler – whose role as captain would doubtless come under intense scrutiny, along with that of the head coach Matthew Mott – is determined not to let his thoughts to drift that far ahead for now.

“I don’t think it’s s**t or bust quite yet,” Buttler told reporters in Antigua. “I think it’s quite clear what we need to do and how we need to play. First and foremost, we need to win the game against Oman to have any chance going forward into the next one. So we have to earn the right to try and win the game. And if we can get ourselves in a position to affect our net run-rate, obviously that’s what we need to do.”

The fact that England are flying blind is a significant complication, however. In order to nudge their NRR up ahead of Scotland’s over their next two games – thereby ensuring they would progress even in the event of the narrowest of Australia wins on Sunday (ie, via a Super Over) – Oman and Namibia need to be defeated by a combined margin of 117 runs or more.

England are unlikely to get much assistance or sympathy from their oldest foes, either. On Monday, Australia’s head coach, Andrew McDonald, hinted that he would be tempted to rest some key players if they can secure their Super Eights berth ahead of that Scotland showdown, which could further narrow the perceived gap between the teams. Additionally, NRR in the group stage is not carried over into the next round, which means there would be no disincentive for Australia to stage a 1999-style go-slow to eliminate England, just as Steve Waugh oversaw in an infamous World Cup run-chase against West Indies a quarter of a century ago.

Buttler, however, insisted he and his team were not going to be distracted by such permutations in the build-up to the first of their two remaining encounters.

“We’ve looked at a few little bits but it’s going to be ever-changing throughout the game,” he said. “I don’t think we need to consume too much energy today and tomorrow saying ‘we need to score ‘x’ amount of runs or win by this much’. I think those kind of things will develop on the day.

“Obviously that’s the situation we find ourselves in, so we have to be aware of that, but not be consumed by that. If we try and do that bit first and forget about trying to win the game and lose, then you’ve got no chance anyway. So I’d rather have some kind of chance going into the last game, and know exactly what we need to.”

Even if England could do little about the weather in the Scotland match, their performance against Australia invited criticism on a number of different levels. In particular, their retention of the out-and-out pace of Mark Wood proved questionable on a pitch that favoured slower variations, while their middle-order batting proved deeply ponderous, much as had been the case in their lacklustre 50-over World Cup defence.

“In this day and age, it’s not always about pace and statements, it’s about skill,” Buttler admitted. “Sometimes you can have a plan that doesn’t come off, but every time we’re working out the best XI for the game coming up. We’ll consider all the options, train well and pick a team we feel gives us the best chance.”

But, he insisted, neither he nor his team was daunted by the challenge awaiting them, nor the growing frustration from England’s fans, who fear a repeat of the story they witnessed in India before Christmas.

“I think there’s a lot of realism that we have only had one-and-a-quarter games,” Buttler said. “It’s very easy to say we’re in a tough position, but we haven’t played loads of cricket. We were outplayed by Australia, and had one game rained out. There’s still lots of confidence in the group.

“I care more about the team than the media and the outside noise,” he added. “That’s always there, it’s part of international sport. If you get to this level, you have to be able to deal with it, the job you guys do, that’s the job TV does. It’s probably harder to completely ignore it in this day and age, but there’s a level of acceptance. Our focus has to be on what we can do with our performance.

“I’ve played the game long enough now to know that it’s very good at building people up and pretty good at criticising when it doesn’t go right, especially in England. I do the same thing when I’m watching a game of football or rugby – ‘how’s he missed that from there?’ ‘How did he miss from one-yard out’, or ‘someone’s dropped the ball over the line’. Simple things like that.

“People care. That’s why we’re able to do what we do, because people care and they want to watch. We’re a proud team, we want to perform really well for all the fans. But to be honest, all the focus is on us and how well we can play. If we play as well as we can, we’ll make our fans happy.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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