Week four of the World Cup and the hunt continues for the England cricket team abducted en route to India and replaced by a set of tailor’s dummies. The mannequins masquerading as the world champions face India today in what threatens to be an utter humiliation for England if both sides play to the level they have done so far at the tournament.
On paper it should be a hard game to call – the England side is full of players with the pedigree to perform in matches like these – but they have been such ghosts of their real selves at this World Cup that this could be a watch-from-behind-the-sofa job.
Their tournament is, barring mathematical confirmation, done and dusted with a fortnight of their group stage still to run. Jos Buttler has no answers as to why such a decorated side should have underperformed so badly. He has, though, stressed that he intends to carry on as England’s white ball captain. He should reconsider. When the next 50-over World Cup – in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia – comes around in November 2027 he will be 37.
The rebuild for that starts when this tournament ends and it needs someone in charge who will last the cycle. Maybe Buttler will make it as a batter, possibly as a wicketkeeper but as a captain? He has looked hollowed-out by this experience.
That is hardly surprising. It has been a chastening World Cup all round for him. The selection hokey-cokey and the toss cock-ups have his fingerprints all over them. His average of 19 with the bat hardly cuts the mustard either.
He has manifestly failed to get the response required out of England in India. It is simplistic and plain wrong to blame Buttler for all the side’s ills – and it shouldn’t be forgotten that he led the England to the T20 World Cup 11 months ago – but what was billed as a glorious last dance for England’s white ball thirty-somethings has turned into a Danse Macabre.
With virtually the entire batting line-up scratching around for form and their medium pacers cannon fodder, England have reverted back to the hesitant Henrys of the bad old days.
It is true that they have had no luck with injuries. Having talked Ben Stokes into coming out of ODI retirement and seen him smash 182 against New Zealand in September, Buttler lost his talisman to a hip problem for England’s first three World Cup matches. By the time he was fit England were in freefall.
Then he lost the one pace bowler who had looked good – Reece Topley – to a broken finger against South Africa. But Topley wasn’t even picked for the opening game thrashing by New Zealand that set the tinnitus tone.
It has been a catalogue of misjudgements from the start; in fact from even before the start. Given the shortfall in 50-over cricket for England – and every other nation – as T20 cricket has taken over, what was the point in staging a three-game one-day international series against Ireland a month before the World Cup and not playing the squad that was heading for India?
With preparation time at such a premium, it made no sense. After four defeats in five games at this World Cup, the rest of England’s tournament has been reduced to the baseline of salvaging pride. That and using the time to think clearly over the best way forward for the side.
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For Buttler that should mean stepping down as captain. Partly. He should hand over the baton for the 50-over side at the end of this tournament but stay on as T20 captain for the World Cup defence in eight months’ time.
Splitting the red and white ball captaincy is accepted practice so why not the ODI and T20 roles? For the short term at least. Australia have been happy to go down that road. Until Aaron Finch retired in February, he led the T20 team while Pat Cummins looked after the 50-over operation.
Why not England? For the three-match ODI series in the West Indies in December, the evolution needs to start under a next-generation leader. Maybe Zak Crawley who led the shadow side in the Ireland series. Whoever it is, England need to turn the page on this horror story of this World Cup and look to 2027.
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