England vs India: Jos Buttler must summon World Cup spirit in fresh ODI challenge

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Three years on from the World Cup, Jos Buttler needs to get his ODI era up and running  (AFP via Getty Images)
Three years on from the World Cup, Jos Buttler needs to get his ODI era up and running (AFP via Getty Images)

July 14, Lord’s, is a date and location with a place in English cricket history. On Thursday, three years on from the most unforgettable World Cup final, England are back at the home of cricket for an ODI.

That was a game with the highest stakes that they won by hook or by crook. In a bilateral series 15 months from a World Cup, there is clearly far less on the line this time, but once again they could really do with a win, any win. They would take the barest of margins this time.

It has been a rocky start to Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler’s post-Eoin Morgan premiership, with three defeats – and three poor batting performances – in four matches. They lost the T20 series with a game to spare, and were humbled in the First ODI at the Kia Oval on Tuesday.

That Morgan left English white-ball cricket in rude health was on show yesterday – just at Taunton, not the Oval. There, the Lions thrashed South Africa in a warm-up for their series next week, with Will Smeed (90 from 56 balls) and Ben Duckett (85 from 67) especially impressive chasing 319 with almost 13 overs to spare.

The top team are in a sticky patch. Their best bowlers are all absent, and the batting is misfiring. Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Ben Stokes all returned with a whimper, and will improve.

But Buttler, and especially Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone have had quiet starts to the home summer. Unlike the red Dukes balls, the white Kookaburra is doing plenty this year, and Roy is struggling to live with it. Livingstone is responding to being in earlier than scheduled by playing how he would at the death, when a few more game smarts were required.

Tuesday’s performance was the perfect storm. A decent, but not decisive, toss that was lost. Some rustiness for players who have not played an ODI for more than a year, and some poor shots by middle order players more used to the sight of a white ball. And some spectacular Indian bowling, which will be true at Lord’s, too.

This was England’s worst ODI defeat since the 2015 World Cup, when they were eviscerated by Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand in Wellington, a game that inspired a revolution.

They had occasional top-order meltdowns under Morgan, but tended to limp a little further than this. One of those came at Lord’s in 2017, against South Africa, when they made 153 (and lost by seven wickets) having been 20 for six. Another was in Adelaide in 2018, when they made it to 196 (and lost by only three wickets), having been five down with only eight on the board. There were four ducks in the top six that day too.

The likes of Ben Stokes will surely improve as England return to the home of ODI cricket (AFP via Getty Images)
The likes of Ben Stokes will surely improve as England return to the home of ODI cricket (AFP via Getty Images)

It should be mentioned that both those aberrations came when a series was already won; this was a bad tone to set. This, according to Moeen Ali, “just one of those days when you draw the line”. He added that “sometimes you learn more from losing games”.

It will be interesting to see how England react, without Morgan, whose bluffing skill made leaving off-days behind easy. Moeen says this changing room is so full of senior players that it “runs itself”, and his solution was pretty simple: “there is no need to panic or change. We just need to step up as senior players”. Do not expect them to go into their shells.

England would probably rather be heading for the flatter pitches of Edgbaston or Trent Bridge than Lord’s – a venue they have found difficult at times – as they look to put an ugly defeat behind them.

The World Cup final was a double-tie that England won thanks to a healthy dose of luck, and the small print. But it was also a performance that showed their character and adaptability. Against an excellent India side, they need to summon that spirit, three years on, to prevent a blip becoming a slump.

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