End of an era for England as title defence comes to a close- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

CHENNAI: EVEN before Adam Zampa had finished his post-match press conference inside the bowels of the Narendra Modi Stadium, Jos Buttler had checked in. He was leaning against a wall a few metres from where Zampa was taking questions. The Australian leg-spinner, who had claimed the wicket of the English captain, was describing his handy ODI record against the keeper (five wickets at an average of 8.6).

Buttler managed a feeble smile — a smile nonetheless — when Zampa said: “He smacks me a lot as well, particularly in T20 cricket. I think I got him out three times (sic: two) after they won the T20 World Cup and I’m not sure he had sobered up yet… he’s a good friend of mine as well.” It was a reminder of the good times. Less than a year ago, Buttler had led them to a T20 World Cup title in Australia. By the time the soft-spoken 33-year-old was done with his press conference, it was apparent he wanted a moment for himself. Frustrated was one word he kept using. Disappointed was another.

Watching on from the sidelines, it wasn’t hard to think this was the end of one of the best teams ever assembled across both white-ball formats.

Minutes after Buttler walked out, Moeen Ali, on mixed zone duties, agreed. “Yeah, maybe (is it the end of a great team?),” he said. “I look at it as an exciting time because there are so many good players who can come in for the next World Cup. Like 2015, we were terrible in the World Cup and we started again, almost.”    

That is a direct acknowledgement that the 15-member could do with an overhaul. That much, though, was always clear. This contingent could do with a sprinkling of youth. In 2019, all of them were at the peak of their powers. In 2023, England fielded a XI where not a single player was below 30 (against Sri Lanka, Liam Livingstone was the youngest at 30 years and three months).

What makes this implosion worse is there are very few mitigating factors. Jofra Archer’s injury (although considering his injury record, you are better off legislating such a scenario) and Reece Topley having to go home mid-tournament are not good reasons for the defending champions to lose six out of seven games, including each of the last five.

There have been several man-made disasters. The selection of Harry Brook in the XIth hour suggested they weren’t sure. Having impressed with the bat, England’s only genuine player to come through in this World Cup cycle had been jettisoned without a proper explanation. The hail mary call and the continued selection of Ben Stokes was another. He’s a messianic figure, agreed, but he can’t do much when playing with a dodgy knee. Opting to bowl in the baking heat of Mumbai without reading the data properly.  

While these have been tangible and hard to miss, England have also suffered because they managed to sleepwalk through the car crash without identifying what’s been affecting their performances.

Ali tried to put a finger on it. “(A) lack of confidence in the batting department,” he said. “We haven’t been good enough.”

That’s one way of putting it. Opener Jonny Bairstow has scored 141 in seven innings. No. 3 Joe Root has chipped in with 188 in the same seven innings. Ben Stokes, who featured at No. 4 a majority of times, contributed 112. Buttler has 106 from seven games. Livingstone and Ali, Nos 6 and 7, put together 143 in 10 innings. Only two players averaged above 30 (minimum=two games) — Brook (32) and David Malan (40.85).  

Then, there’s the old chestnut of playing spin in Indian conditions. While they smothered the turn (or whatever little there was in 2019 in England), they succumbed to it this time out. During this five-match losing run of theirs, the return against opposition spin reads 66.5-5-251-16. When you average 15.6 against the slower bowlers in the sub-continent, you stand no chance.  

Where do they go from here? In a literal sense, they go to Pune to face Netherlands before finishing their assignment at Kolkata against Pakistan. In the longer term, though, will it lead to the kind of soul-searching that English white-ball cricket had in 2015?

Whatever happens, Buttler believes he’s the best man for the job. Having maintained that earlier in the competition, he spoke on the same lines on Saturday night as well. “I wouldn’t say the belief has shaken, more just the frustration grows and adds,” he said. “Like I said, these are top quality players. I speak about myself more. I think the belief in my game is as high as it’s ever been really, which is why there’s so much frustration. Coming into the tournament, I felt in fantastic form, as good a form as I’ve been in. So, to be sat here having had the tournament I’ve had is incredibly frustrating, but it doesn’t shake your belief. If I stop believing in myself, I’ve got to make sure I’m the last one that does that.”

With the 50-over defence ending with a whimper, they now ought to change their focus on the defence of the T20 World Cup. It’s in six-seven months.

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