England one-day cricket: New faces to attack limited ambition

Buttler heartened by England's fresh one-day approach after World Cup debacle, writes Stephen Brenkley

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For 20 years, England’s one-day cricket has been all about some day. As in, some day the one-day team will not only be taken  seriously but also start competing properly.

Idle words have been followed by scant action, the upshot of which was to be seen in the recent World Cup. It was the sixth in succession in which England performed lamentably. If anything, this one was worse than the others, so dismally outmoded was their brand of cricket.

The usual routine is that someone promises that something will be done but nothing truly changes. England’s attitude to limited-overs cricket in general can be seen as the embodiment of lip service.

But this time enough really does seem to be enough. A new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, himself captain in one of the World Cup disappointments, has talked passionately about the need to have a worthwhile team and a workable method in place by the time of the next World Cup in 2019 but preferably before the Champions Trophy in 2017. Both these tournaments are to be played in England.

Part of the reason that Strauss  appointed Trevor Bayliss as the new coach was Bayliss’s successful track record in all limited-overs formats. He has won trophies or reached  finals with virtually every team he has coached, both domestic and international.

Bayliss does not arrive until later this month and will not be present for most of England’s series of five one-day internationals and one Twenty20, which begin against New Zealand in Birmingham on Tuesday. But his influence on the squad and the way they play will be felt, not least because the players who took part in the World Cup fully recognise that they were badly off the necessary pace.

Jos Buttler, the wicketkeeper-batsman and World Cup vice-captain, who is a modern player in every sense, appears to have been mildly shocked by what happened. He seems to have been speaking for everybody last week when he reflected on what must now take place.

“You have to be brutally honest and say we were getting it wrong,” he said. “If we played our best style we were probably only getting up to par or just above and you’re asking a lot of your bowlers in those  conditions in Australia and fielding restrictions to defend those scores.”

Buttler is heartened by the squad that England have selected for the matches against New Zealand. There is for the first time a fresh-as-a-daisy feel about it, comprising players who are well-versed in modern one-day techniques because they come naturally to them.

“If you look at that squad that is a very explosive and innovative batting line-up,” he said. “I think we  have to be looking at scores of 350 and upwards. That’s the way the game’s going.

“In a few years time we’ll look back at the World Cup just gone and say that was a turning point in 50-over cricket. People changed the game at that World Cup – the way Brendon McCullum captained, the way  AB de Villiers batted this was a  moment in time when the game changed and we have to follow that lead. We don’t have any other choice.”

In batsmen like Alex Hales, Jason Roy and Sam Billings (not to mention Buttler himself), England have some seriously big hitters. In left-arm seam bowler David Willey they are trying fervently to open a new angle of attack. The question to be answered, as always, is whether they can transfer county achievement to international accomplishment.

“Personally it took me a while to find out it’s about belief,” said Buttler, “that you belong at that level and can perform the way you want to play the game in international cricket. Jason Roy might walk in on debut and smack a hundred. He’s potentially the sort of character who international cricket will really suit.

“He’ll be desperate to perform on these big stages – as will Sam Billings, Alex Hales, all these guys. The talent is there and now it’s about going out and playing with that freedom, and at times you might get it wrong, [the team] might be bowled out for 180 in 35 overs. But I think that is the sort of process the side has to go through to start to understand the scores we need to get to.”

This is a tough series for the new boys to start with. New Zealand, the merry trailblazers, reached the World Cup final and are perfectly attuned to an incessant attacking style which has helped transform the game. England have lost seven of their last eight one-day series – and that was before the grotesque World Cup, when they failed to qualify from the group stage.

“I think it’s time to put the World Cup behind us,” said Buttler. “It was very disappointing and we learned some really key messages from that – where we were going so wrong that it has to be different. A lot of people have been talking about a new era and a new brand but now it’s about actually playing that way and not just talking about it.”

Talking about it is fundamentally what England have done since they reached their third and most recent World Cup final in 1992. Their magnificent World T20 win in 2010 now seems like an aberration. This year is really all about the Ashes for England. But on Tuesday begins the road to the 2019 World Cup, when some day may at last arrive.