Under pressure England captain Jos Buttler needs a win in T20 decider against South Africa to salvage anything from their summer ahead of T20 World Cup in October
- England are 1-1 with South Africa after disappointing performance on Thursday
- Jos Buttler’s side are yet to win a white-ball series this summer
- The team’s poor form is a concern with the T20 World Cup just two months away
England go into today’s Twenty20 decider against South Africa at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl needing victory to allow Jos Buttler to escape his first home summer as white-ball captain with a series win.
But he also knows there are questions ahead of the T20 World Cup which starts in October — and he must use a seven-match series in Pakistan and a three-match series in Australia to answer them.
Among them is the form of Jason Roy, who for most of his career has provided England with turbo-charged starts. But he has looked hopelessly out of touch this summer, scraping together 59 runs in five innings with a strike-rate of 73 — that’s well below T20’s bare minimum of 100.
England captain Jos Buttler will be feeling the heat after a disappointing summer
Team-mates have lined up to back him, but there will come a point when his stodginess places others under too much pressure. His opening partner Buttler, for example, looked in good touch against South Africa at Bristol and Cardiff, only to give it away in search of runs that felt increasingly urgent because of Roy’s struggles.
There are two solutions if his decline proves irreversible. Give Lancashire’s Phil Salt the series in Pakistan, starting in September, to allow him time to prepare for the World Cup, or move the in-form Jonny Bairstow up to open and bring Yorkshire’s Harry Brook into the middle order.
Roy could do with a big score today to quell the speculation.
Then there’s Ben Stokes, who is sitting out this series but will expect to go to the World Cup, not least because he recently quit the ODI format. To regard the Stokes situation as a conundrum feels faintly insane, but he has rarely translated his prowess at Test and one-day level into the T20 game.
Ben Stokes is expected to feature for England in the T20 World Cup in October
He averages 20 with the bat, without a single half-century, and 37 with the ball.
Yet Buttler will not want to go into the World Cup without the man he batted alongside in the super over against New Zealand at Lord’s three years ago. It seems inconceivable that Stokes will not take up his usual place at No 5 or 6 in Australia. And, if England also stick with Roy, and continue to tolerate Dawid Malan’s slow starts at No 3, that would mean no place for either Salt or Brook in the starting XI.
At a time when England’s 20-over side feels as if it needs fresh blood, that could be a mistake.
Jason Roy has endured a disappointing spell in the three match series with South Africa
Liam Livingstone is another in need of a performance. He is not in the Roy category, having cracked four sixes during the win over India at Trent Bridge. But he has temporarily mislaid the mojo that made him so watchable over the past two summers, and his bowling — none for 74 from five overs this season — has lacked its usual verve too.
At least England’s bowling has had its moments. Injuries to Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes have allowed Reece Topley to show his class this summer, while Chris Jordan seems revitalised as the death bowler Eoin Morgan called upon. His yorkers against South Africa have been of a high quality.
But the feeling persists that Buttler’s England are yet to emerge from the shadow of Morgan’s. Victory today would provide a little breathing space, before things get serious this autumn.
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