T20 World Cup: Jos Buttler and Alex Hales face final day of reckoning as England chase history

T20 World Cup: Jos Buttler and Alex Hales face final day of reckoning as England chase history

As Alex Hales and Jos Buttler embraced, having trounced India in Adelaide, you saw two men to whom lifting the same trophy in Melbourne on Sunday would mean notably different things.

For Hales, this is a tournament all about reprieve and redemption, after missing out on the generation-defining World Cup win on home soil in 2019. For Buttler, it is about legacy, the chance to add to that title, to rule the world again — and this time as captain.

Already England’s greatest-ever white-ball cricketer, Buttler will, against Pakistan at the MCG, lead his country in a World Cup final for the first time, knowing, too, that he has played an integral role with both bat and brain in taking them this far.

Tactically, Buttler has come into his own in this tournament, nailing his match-ups and masterfully commanding a bowling attack that arrived in Australia with obvious limitations but has — save a 10-over brain-fade against Ireland — hardly put a foot wrong.

Record-breakers: Alex Hales and Jos Buttler powered England to a thrashing of India (AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
Record-breakers: Alex Hales and Jos Buttler powered England to a thrashing of India (AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

At the crease, at least until England went into effective knockout mode, he had been a little slower to come to the boil, while others — most notably Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav — hogged centre stage. Perhaps he is not the type to care, but when Buttler quipped post-match yesterday, after hitting 80 off 49 balls, that Yadav seemed to be even the England analyst’s favourite player, you sensed the tiniest of gripes.

Though hardly a brash character, putting a personal stamp on these tournaments matters a great deal. Twelve months ago, after a superb group stage, Buttler seemed to have the T20 World Cup at his mercy but could not make the same match-deciding contribution in the semi-final, as England crumbled.

In the 2019 50-over final, despite a game-saving knock, he was furious at not getting England home in regulation, only to take the second chance offered by the Super Over to make a lasting, iconic mark.

As bonus chances go, Buttler’s partner is making fair use of his own. Exiled for three-and-a-half years, Hales has seized an opportunity he not merely feared, but felt sure would never come — probably with good reason, given the sequence of events it has taken to get here.

Exiled for three-and-a-half years, Hales has seized an opportunity he not merely feared, but felt sure would never come

First, there was the retirement of Eoin Morgan, the captain whose trust Hales shattered when failing a second recreational drugs test and under whose tenure he would never have worn the shirt again. Then, there was the decline of Jason Roy, the talismanic opener so central to England’s philosophy he seemed undroppable until his form fell so catastrophically off a cliff that he simply had to be.

Meanwhile, Jonny Bairstow was himself tumbling off the edge of a golf course tee-box, England’s form batter in line for a promotion, instead left in lying agony with his leg broken in three places. It was not that Hales’s case had become too good to ignore — England had been doing exactly that for some time — but circumstances necessitated a change in party line, the foundation for a recall laid by Rob Key’s arrival as managing director.

Like Buttler, Hales did not hit the ground running in this tournament, but his record in Australia, where free of England duties he has spent so much time playing in the Big Bash, suggested he would always come good.

He has since made sizeable contributions in three successive must-win matches, not only in terms of runs but also approach, a Roy-esque belligerence at the top of the order getting England up and running in a tournament where several teams, including India, have paid for a lack of early intent.

The byproduct of both Hales and Buttler’s excellence in the past week is that England’s reliance on them has increased: almost three-quarters of the team’s runs across those three vital fixtures have been scored by their openers and several of those further down the order are now going into a final short of runs, time in the middle or both.

Another day of reckoning beckons. For Buttler, one of the greatest players of his generation, one global title is not enough. For Hales, who thought his shot had been and gone, one would mean the world.