England’s plan to end white-ball rut? Hit as many sixes as possible

Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler has plenty to prove after a chastening one-day World Cup in India - Getty Images/Stu Forster

England will put their faith in their six-hitters to lift them out of their white-ball rut when they begin preparations for the Twenty20 World Cup at Headingley.

The opening T20 of a four-match series against Pakistan on Wednesday is the first chance for Jos Buttler to show he has moved on from a woeful end to 2023 and turn his team into a force at the World Cup next month, where they will be defending the title won in 2022.

A top five of Phil Salt, Buttler, Will Jacks, Jonny Bairstow and Harry Brook certainly have the firepower to win any slugfest and high-scoring games on small West Indian grounds are expected to be the norm next month.

Liam Livingstone is injured but will add another firecracker to the mix when fit, and England’s focus on six-hitting extends all the way down the order, with Chris Jordan back at the age of 35 because of his ability to come in and clear the ropes from his first ball at No 8.

Three of England’s top four scored hundreds in the Indian Premier League and the one who did not, Salt, batted at a blistering strike rate of 182, hitting a six every nine balls. Brook, who pulled out of the IPL, is one of the game’s strongest boundary hitters and desperate to get back into the international mix.

This will be only Jacks’s 12th T20 – and the top three is still bedding in, having been put together for the first time for the West Indies series in December. Jacks recently told ESPN Cricinfo he was still getting used to batting at three, even though he scored a 41-ball hundred there at the IPL, and this series is an important precursor to the World Cup for a team accused in the past of taking preparation too lightly.

Buttler had an up-and-down IPL, scoring two centuries but little else. However, he looks refreshed rather than the worn-down figure at the end of 2023, who carried around the stresses of a poor World Cup and series defeat in the West Indies.

Despite the presence of old lags Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Jordan, there is a new look to England, with Jacks, Salt and Brook players to build the team around over the next few years. Brook looks to have slimmed down and worked on his strength while at home this winter and is raring to go after missing the India Test tour for personal reasons.

Jonny Bairstow hosts England players for a barbecue
Jonny Bairstow hosted England players for a barbecue ahead of their T20 match against Pakistan against Headingley - Instagram

Jofra Archer’s presence lifts the whole team and gives Buttler the pace he badly missed at the World Cup in October. The worry with this England set-up, given how they performed in India last year, is they can be too dogmatic. The six-hitters are thrilling to watch, but what happens if England are sucked into a dogfight on a slow pitch. Can they adapt? The Pakistan series is a good chance to try out different things and test themselves in such scenarios.

“That’s the skill of the game, to be able to read conditions and play accordingly. I want us to be a team that if we need to, we can battle it out in that slugfest and hit sixes and compete with our power,” Buttler said.

“But I also want us to be a team that can win ugly and on a difficult pitch, find ways to play differently if it’s not going to be about just standing and hitting sixes. We have to be a team that adapts and World Cups are different, I do believe, when the pressure comes on and you’re chasing scores.

“In bilateral series, it’s probably a little bit easier to play with that carefree attitude. And, as a team, we have to be able to cope with that pressure when the heat comes on. And there might be a game where you’re chasing 140 and you lost a couple of early wickets. Do we have the game to win that, as well? I think if you’re going to go all the way in the World Cup, that’s what we’ll need.”

Buttler says he has “moved on” from the India World Cup, where he learned some hard lessons. Behind the scenes, there was criticism of his communication, with insiders saying they were confused over who was in charge, or making the big decisions.

Rob Key, the director of cricket, took the blame on himself, saying he had spent too long preparing the Test team and took his eye off the white-ball set-up but, really, mistakes were made on the ground.

The problems mounted up as Matthew Mott, the head coach, and Buttler were slow to adapt and the messaging lacked the clarity of the Eoin Morgan era.

“You do learn about stuff in defeat,” Buttler added. “Maybe you’re not actually giving enough clarity, so making sure people are clear what is expected of them, and they’re happy – encouraging those conversations.”