Rob Key will fly to India at the end of the week to select squads for next month’s white-ball tour of the Caribbean, but more importantly to decide whether Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott are the men to deliver a restart for England lead.
So the penultimate game of this dismal World Cup defense against the Netherlands in Pune is about more than the consolation prize of a place in the 2025 Champions Trophy or restoring a spark of pride. If Key, England’s director of men’s cricket, were to face the touring party after a seventh of eight defeats in Calcutta, the status quo would clearly look untenable.
There have already been indications that Key is continuing to support Mott following his appointment last year; The recognition is very high after he and Buttler claimed the T20 World Cup victory in Australia 12 months ago to unify the two global white-ball belts. England have also struggled in India in the past, with even Eoin Morgan’s all-conquering side suffering series defeats in 2018 and the pandemic tour three years later.
While Buttler and his exhausted players stepped away from media duties the day before the game, they have already publicly stated that the blame lies primarily with their own shortcomings. In private, the conversation last week in Ahmedabad and now in Pune was similar; There’s no blame game in the ranks yet, although some say the relaxed, approachable Mott hasn’t really “put his own stamp” on the 50-over setup yet.
Not that that wasn’t understandable. Brendon McCullum turned down the white-ball job last year, preferring what he called the “grintier” Test site, and it makes sense that Mott would have been wary of making too much change given England’s previous successes. A full team only came together for the one-day series against New Zealand at the end of the home summer; the result of a packed schedule in which the Test team led by Ben Stokes and McCullum rightly took precedence in resources.
However, there was the question of messaging, and considering that it was raised by Morgan – a man still referred to as “Boss” by members of the force – it is unlikely to have been a gambit or to create a distance in his new job as a commentator. Be it the provisional squad that had been held in place until then, the confusion over Jofra Archer’s status as a reserve, the brief departure from the team’s usual structure midway through the tournament or early admissions about waning confidence that would never have passed Morgan’s lips, the Diagnosis has legs.
And so it’s not just how much of the squad to select for three ODIs against the West Indies next month that will be decided – and how much to protect the core of the Twenty20 side, which will play five games to prepare for the defense of a second title next year – Key must determine whether the relationship between Buttler and Mott is still working. While it was probably not intentional for the latter to publicly describe Stokes as the team’s “spiritual leader” for addressing the squad after the defeat against Afghanistan, it cannot have boosted Buttler’s confidence.
The only priority on Wednesday is to strengthen his side’s position in the table, as the Dutch look down on bottom side England with a slightly superior run rate. They also claimed a notable victory for their only victory: South Africa were rolled for 207 in Dharamsala, chasing 246, a reminder that complacency towards the only associated nation in the tournament – whose resources are far fewer than the others – with red faces can end.
Not that England needs reminding as they lost twice to the Netherlands in the aforementioned World T20. Adil Rashid is the sole survivor of the first of these upsets – a four-wicket defeat at Lord’s in 2009, in which Key himself was involved – while Buttler and Moeen Ali left the England team in a humiliating 88 in Chattogram in 2014 Bowling was thrown. A team Anyone who talks about “Total Cricket” feels that a hat-trick in the World Cup is entirely possible.
This Dutch side is led in runs by a wicketkeeper-captain, Tongan-born, Australian-raised Scott Edwards, who has so far scored two half-centuries before Buttler’s nil. In Bas de Leede and Logan van Beek they have a couple of speedy all-rounders who take the wicket. Roelef van der Merwe’s fast-paced celebrations are well known to Somerset fans, as is Paul van Meekeren, the dashing sailor who briefly worked as an Uber Eats driver to make ends meet three years ago.
England must certainly look to get Harry Brook back into their team, while seamers Gus Atkinson and Brydon Carse have been working hard in training. Whichever team takes the field in Pune will have to provide a captain and head coach to await the arrival of the real boss.