England captain Jos Buttler is poised to return after nearly two months out in his side’s series-opening T20 against Australia on Sunday.
A niggling calf strain suffered while representing Manchester Originals in The Hundred has kept Buttler on ice, restricted to a watching brief in Pakistan as Moeen Ali presided over a 4-3 T20 series victory.
Buttler might have played in the final couple of games in Lahore last week had there been a pressing need, but caution has been the buzzword as the T20 World Cup loomed ever larger on the horizon.
With three weeks until the beginning of their campaign against Afghanistan at Perth’s Optus Stadium, it is anticipated the trigger will be pulled on Buttler’s England comeback at the same venue this weekend.
That almost certainly means a shootout between Alex Hales and Phil Salt for the other openers’ spot, but the former has been conferred as having the edge given his pedigree in Australia’s Big Bash League.
Whether Buttler keeps wicket as well might be considered, with Salt deputising ably with the gloves in Pakistan – although he was seen practicing his boundary catching on Friday.
If Salt does miss out in the first of this three-match series, it may not be an automatic indication of who is at the front of the World Cup pecking order, with England seeking to manage workloads given a short turnaround between the end of the Pakistan trip and the start of the Australia tour.
And Salt, who admitted on Friday he was still getting over jetlag, pointed out how matters can quickly change, having been given a chance to push his case following injuries to Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.
How about that for an innings 🔥💥
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 30, 2022
“It’s more a case of focusing on yourself,” he said. “The landscape changes so quickly in professional sport. I’m just here to perform and to win games, in my mind that’s as simple as it gets.
“If you keep giving yourself finish lines you can distract yourself a lot of the time but if you have a more stripped-back process you can stick to, I’ve found that’s the best way to keep developing and keep your eyes on performing.”
Salt was an ever-present in Pakistan and amassed 167 runs, more than half of which came during an eye-popping penultimate outing when he hammered the third fastest fifty by an England batter in T20 internationals en route to an unbeaten 88 that went a long way to setting up a decider.
“If you’re not a fearless cricketer you don’t fit into the England team in my opinion,” Salt said.
“I want to put my own stamp on it with the way I play. I feel like I’m quite different to a lot of batters that are in this set-up so however you want to put it, I want to take the game on.”
Liam Livingstone has taken part in some training this week but while he will not play on Sunday as he continues his recovery from an ankle complaint, England have not given up hope the all-rounder could feature later on in this series, with a double-header in Canberra next week.
All of England’s training sessions in this series and the World Cup will be optional as the white-ball side mimics the Test outfit’s approach that gives players some autonomy over their schedules.
But Salt insisted England will not be taking a laissez-faire approach as international cricket returns to Perth after a near three-year absence, with an Ashes Test last January moved away amid concerns about the city’s strict Covid-19 biosecurity protocols, which were largely scrapped earlier this year.
“First and foremost it’s a series to win, I think we all know that,” Salt added. “Everybody’s got an eye on the World Cup but it’s very important to keep the momentum rolling from Pakistan.”