England’s four years, two months and 21 days as defending ODI World Cup champions effectively ends on Thursday when they walk out for the first game of a new tournament as one of 10 teams with identical dreams and theoretically equal chances. It was anyway a title Jos Buttler was happy to lose: “We’re not ‘defending’ anything,” he said on Wednesday. “I want us to attack.”
The past few weeks have been full of talk about 2019, with New Zealand England’s opponents on Thursday as they were in that epic final, but Buttler has tired of it. “For me the past is in the past, you can’t recreate something or hold on to it for ever,” he said. “It’s all about something new. It’s fantastic to be reigning champions but we’ve given that trophy back now. It’s done.
“Stuff in the past can be nice reference points. I never believed in experience as a young player, I thought you could either do it or you couldn’t. But as an older player, there are times that things happen and they are nice to reference back to. I don’t like the word ‘defending’. It may have been a motivation for certain teams when they’ve been in that position but for us it’s irrelevant.”
This is a team that has gorged on success over the past five years, winning the last World Cups in both ODI and T20s formats – with a bonus T20 semi-final to boot – but is still far from sated. “I think the hunger is there,” Buttler said. “What the two World Cup wins tell you is that’s not what you’re chasing. The whole journey is the stuff that lights the fire more than anything else, because you get to the end and think: ‘Now what?’ Actually getting back to the start again is the feeling you’re after, and chasing something more.”
Talk of a 2019 reunion seems less relevant given Thursday’s game is likely to be played without both the player of that tournament, Kane Williamson – close to a return from a serious knee injury – and the player of the match in the final, Ben Stokes. Stokes was ruled out of England’s final warm-up, against Bangladesh on Monday, with an apparently minor hip injury and his involvement in the team’s training session on the eve of their World Cup opener was limited to about 20 minutes of far from strenuous activity. With nine group matches to play he is unlikely to be risked for the first.
“He’s got a slight niggle with his hip,” Jos Buttler said. “It’s not the time to take big risks on someone at the start of the tournament. Nearer the end maybe you do take more of a risk with people’s injuries, but it’s going to be a long tournament.”
Though there are several options for England to consider, the most obvious replacement for Stokes would be Harry Brook, the only reserve batter in the squad. “We know what a fantastic player he is,” Buttler said of Brook. “He’s not played loads of ODI cricket, but he’s got all the shots, he can play big innings, so it’s a format that should suit him really well.”
New Zealand are also keen to shrug off the burden of 2019, with Tom Latham, who will stand in for Williamson as captain, saying neither that final – “We’ve parked that” – or last month’s four-game ODI series in England had any bearing on this occasion. “It’s about turning up on that specific day and trying to play your best brand of cricket,” he said. “We know if we do that and we play to the best of our ability, then we can beat anyone in the world.”