SYDNEY (AFP): Jos Buttler is back in his all-action role as captain, opening batsman and wicketkeeper as power-packed England prepare to launch their bid for Twenty20 World Cup glory.
The white ball star missed his side’s recent 4-3 series win in Pakistan with a calf injury and in his absence Alex Hales and Phil Salt impressed at the top of the batting order, with Salt taking the gloves.
But Buttler appeared to end speculation over whether he might relinquish his wicket-keeping role or drop down the batting order in the first game of a three-match series against Australia on Sunday.
The 32-year-old opened alongside Hales and smacked 68 off 32 balls as England defeated the World Cup hosts and holders by eight runs in Perth.
Buttler and Test captain Ben Stokes, who was not in the squad in Pakistan, will boost an already strong batting line-up, with all-rounder Liam Livingstone and “death-overs” specialist Chris Jordan also added into the mix.
Buttler, who succeeded Eoin Morgan as England’s white-ball captain earlier this year, is hoping to lead the reigning 50-over world champions to just their second T20 triumph, 12 years after their first.
England’s Test team have sparkled in recent months under Stokes but Buttler and new white-ball coach Matthew Mott have found success harder to come by, even though they are ranked second in T20 cricket.
England lost T20 and one-day international series against India in July before drawing an ODI series against South Africa and then suffering a defeat at the hands of the Proteas in the subsequent T20 series.
Those results led to questions over whether Buttler, a member of England’s winning team in the 50-over World Cup in 2019, was being asked to juggle too many roles.
That debate intensified in Pakistan, where the recalled Hales and Salt both made their mark after England had dropped struggling opener Jason Roy from the squad.
The emergence of Harry Brook at number five in Pakistan — he was England’s leading run-scorer on tour with 238 runs at a strike-rate of 163 — also complicated the debate about where all-rounder Stokes will fit in the side.
But Buttler has made it clear that he wants Stokes to bat as high up the order as possible and he was sent in at number three against Australia, who are in England’s Super 12 group at the tournament.
Stokes, playing his first T20 match for England since March 2021, managed only nine runs in Perth while Brook came in at four and made 12.
– ‘A bit of tinkering’ –
“There’s always a bit of tinkering, form comes into it,” Mott, previously in charge of Australia’s all-conquering women’s team, told Sky Sports ahead of the series against Australia.
“Obviously Harry Brook has had some really good hit-outs and done well. He’s looked really composed out there and seems to just pick the right times to go for his boundaries.”
Salt kept wicket for Manchester Originals during the Hundred competition in England this year, allowing Buttler to lead the side from the outfield, but the national team skipper was back behind the stumps in Perth.
England are among the World Cup favourites along with Australia and India, but there is a worry about lack of penetration with the ball in a format favouring big-hitting batsmen.
The return of Mark Wood, who topped speeds of 97 miles per hour (156 km/h), and Chris Woakes in Pakistan bolstered England’s pace attack and gave the selectors welcome options.
“Woody got through a few, Woakes got through a couple and we’re building nicely with that depth we are after for the World Cup,” said Mott, who can also call on dangerous left-armer Reece Topley, who offers pace and bounce.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid had a disappointing tour of Pakistan, taking just five wickets at an average of nearly 45 but will again be a key weapon in England’s armoury, giving Buttler welcome variation.
England are in a World Cup group with Afghanistan, Australia, New Zealand and two teams who qualify from the first round.
They open their tournament on October 22 against Afghanistan in Perth.