Muddled selection, ageing squad and no new blood – England’s World Cup problems

Jos Buttler’s side have come up short against New Zealand, Afghanistan and South Africa and have a mountain to climb to salvage the campaign.

Rory Dollard
Monday 23 October 2023 10:29 BST

Related video: England captain Jos Buttler speaks at captains day for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 in India

England’s World Cup defence is hanging by a thread after losing three of the first four games in India.

Jos Buttler’s side have come up short against New Zealand, Afghanistan and South Africa and have a mountain to climb to salvage the campaign.

Here, the PA news agency looks at what has gone wrong and what comes next.

Do they still have a chance?

With the elongated group format, England still have another five games to play between now and November 11 whatever happens. Mathematically speaking there are a few shades of grey in terms of what they need to do, but realistically things are already black and white. England need wins and lots of them. They may well require a perfect run to retain their crown and, with games against the table-topping hosts, rivals Australia and an unpredictable Pakistan, that looks a tough ask.

What role has selection played in their struggles?

Things are certainly a lot less clear than they were four years ago, when Jofra Archer’s late arrival completed the jigsaw. First England left Harry Brook out of their provisional squad, then swapped him with Jason Roy at the last minute, installing Dawid Malan as first-choice opener on the eve of the tournament. Since landing, things have been even more muddled. Reece Topley was omitted from the opener and proved to be the team’s in-form bowler when he was restored to the side. More bafflingly still, England picked a phalanx of all-rounders in game one (Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes) and left out all four of them in favour of specialists by game four.

Is this a step too far for the world beaters of 2019?

There is no escaping the fact that this is a side that is rapidly moving to the end of its natural lifespan. Eleven of the 15-man squad are north of 30 and there are eight survivors from the squad that triumphed at Lord’s four years ago. At times it has been impossible to escape the suspicion that too many of these players have tipped past their peak as 50-over prospects. Looking at the core of the side – Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid – it is hard to argue any are better one-day cricketers than they were in 2019.

Where is the new blood then?

Dislodging players who are destined to go down among the country’s all-time greats in the format was never going to be an easy task for the next generation but the lack of renewal is still striking. Was it realistic to expect challengers to emerge from a county system that has devalued the domestic 50-over tournament to a second-tier cup sub-servient to The Hundred? Gus Atkinson had played a grand total of two List A games before his ODI debut and Brook admitted this month that he was “learning the format” on the biggest stage of all. Expecting a sufficient supply of fresh talent to emerge in the current eco-system looks to be a pipe dream.

Are there issues over the leadership?

The captain-coach relationship between Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott got off to a roaring start when they won the T20 World Cup together last year just a few months into their time together. But with so much emphasis on the ‘Bazball’ revolution in the Test arena, their job has got trickier. With fewer matches, longer gaps and less availability of big names they have been left to pull things together at the last minute and it simply hasn’t worked. The decision making has been wanting – from the chopping and changing on the team-sheet to the baffling logic of bowling first in stifling conditions in Mumbai – but the real issues may run deeper and wider than the dressing room alone. Eoin Morgan proved his mettle in the immediate aftermath of the botched 2015 campaign when he led with a strong voice and demanded the players and resources to succeed. If Buttler and Mott are to succeed in the long run they may need assert themselves in similar style.

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