The honeymoon is over: Tough calls for new coach Matthew Mott with England in a world of trouble

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Team: Buttler and Mott  (Action Images via Reuters)
Team: Buttler and Mott (Action Images via Reuters)

The honeymoon period for England’s new white-ball coach Matthew Mott lasted just a week. In Amsterdam in June, his team enjoyed a joyous romp. Since, life has been rather tougher.

The transformative captain Eoin Morgan rightly retired, and they failed to win any of their four series, including losing two clutch deciders. The second of those came here against South Africa yesterday, when they were outclassed in every department. They have lost three T20 series in a row.

The month of July revealed that, with a T20 World Cup in Australia in October, England are way off the standards they have set themselves in recent years. They do not play again before they name a 15-man squad for the tournament, but do have as many as a dozen matches before the tournament: seven in Pakistan, three against Australia, and a couple of official warm-ups. The tournament team will not play together until they get to Australia.

The bowling attack is short on firepower, with Jofra Archer still missing. Mark Wood and Chris Woakes are likelier to be back for the tournament, but neither has made good progress from injuries picked up at the end of England’s last brutal winter.

Reece Topley has advanced his case this summer, Richard Gleeson has emerged, while David Willey and Chris Jordan are enjoying revivals. All of them had off days last month, though, with Topley and Jordan’s coming yesterday, Gleeson having been dropped.

Their batting has deserted them. Yesterday, they were bowled out for the ninth time in 11 white-ball innings this summer. There has not been an individual century, and a number of players are clearly out of form. Ben Stokes will come into the top four, which, says Mott, “makes selection a hell of a lot easier”.

Who makes way is unclear. Jason Roy is the obvious struggler, but loyalty to him runs deep, especially as his absence was so keenly felt at World Cups in 2019 and 2021. He had a poor summer, though, scoring just 78 runs from 96 balls in six T20 hits, while looking sulky. Mott did not hide his concerns about Roy, who has competition from Stokes, Phil Salt and James Vince.

“I think that’s the one that we, as a selection group, really need to thrash out,” he said. “I think this, the end of this series, we sit down and you’ve got to mount the pros and cons for all this sort of stuff.”

Mott said that, while senior players who have achieved great things “deserve loyalty”, he added that “at certain times, hard decisions need to be made, and young players come in and add energy”. He encouraged Salt and Harry Brook to keep the pressure on with a “mountain of runs” in the Hundred, which begins on Wednesday. In his view, it is never too close to a big tournament to make a change, because “no one has a mortgage on a spot”.

Dawid Malan had a solid if unspectacular spell, but Roy’s opening partner Jos Buttler has not fired either. Really, the two men have had their roles the wrong way round. Roy should be the selfless, explosive tone setter, while Buttler needs to bat long. In every match against South Africa, he landed a couple of beautiful boundaries before getting out. Buttler is still settling into the captaincy, and Mott said fans would have to be patient with England.

“I think a lot of people reflect back on the past about how great a team this is,” he said. “This is a very different unit at the moment. All we ask is for a little bit of patience and a bit of perspective that we’ve got some building to do.”

Morgan, whose absence Mott believes has left a “void”, had a masterful poker face. Buttler (left) is steely, but tends to wear his troubles heavily. “Anyone that knows him knows he’s very hard on him on himself,” said Mott.

Mott admitted England lack confidence, which has rarely been the case in recent years. His hope is that this “disappointing” period — which has been “a bit of a struggle” — would be the making of Buttler’s England.

With T20 World Cups all about peaking at the right moment, it is certainly not too late for things to come together for England. But selecting a squad will not be as easy as it once was, and they have many questions to answer.

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