London: If Virat Kohli limped off, India — the whole country perhaps, not just the team — would hardly know what to do. If Aaron Finch limped off, there are few senior Australians left, who have not been banned from captaining their country. When Eoin Morgan had a back spasm at Southampton, however, Jos Buttler was there to take over without turning a hair.
It was not a seamless transition — only because Buttler brought back his seamers and polished off West Indies for 212. He called for a clever review, which was successful, and left the run chase to Joe Root, the most able of deputies. If Buttler can take over the England captaincy so calmly in a must-win World Cup game, he has got the job full-time when Morgan retires from 50-over cricket and devotes himself to purely to T20.
“I would be chuffed, but I’d rather Eoin plays,” said Buttler when referring specifically to England’s next game against Afghanistan at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
There is no great need to risk Morgan either, because the reserve batsman in the squad, James Vince, could cover for Jason Roy as he recovers from his left hamstring injury, while Moeen Ali bats instead of Morgan.
“I have played under Eoin for a long time and he’s a fantastic captain and he’s someone I have tried to learn from as vice-captain,” Buttler said. “We speak a lot about the game, we’ve got similar views, so it will be very similar.
“Everyone was saying we can’t wait to get out of Southampton! We lost some guys in the warm-up [Mark Wood hobbled off against Australia] and it’s a good thing that guys like Joe stand up. When you’ve lost two guys, it could be trickier than it was, so credit to those guys up top. If it comes to captaining, it’s a huge honour any time you do it and from -behind the stumps you have a really good view of what is going on. It’s down to you to manage and separate the two jobs. For the 10 seconds when you are a wicketkeeper, do that to the best of your ability, then outside of that allow yourself to think about the game.”
In addition to being a test of skill, this World Cup has become a test of patience and endurance when the players have had to stick together in a confined space and stay warm and sane. At least for Buttler, with his new baby, time in hotels offers a chance to catch up on his sleep. But again Buttler is as respectful towards his off-field boss as his on-field captain. “I’m pretty lucky, my wife is doing a great job in the night and it’s a very exciting time, isn’t it?”
There is still a month to go before the final of the World Cup, which started on May 30 — so long ago that South Africa seemed a significant danger. “It’s one of the parts of the tournament, it’s a long one, lots of games. It will be a full squad effort and for the other teams, the guys not in the 15 may still come in and play a vital role.”
In England’s case, Vince, the left-arm spinner Liam Dawson, and the surplus seamer Tom Curran, have yet to make their debuts.
In the Indian Premier League, Buttler has played with or against all three of Afghanistan’s spinners, who together form a match-winning trio, or would do if their batsmen were able to post totals of any substance. Mohammad Nabi is an orthodox, though brisk, off-spinner; Mujeeb-ur-Rahman an off-spinner with many variations, but perhaps too slow through the air for a world-class white-ball batsman like Buttler; and Rashid Khan is a quick leg-spinner, who was concussed when hit while batting in Afghanistan’s match against New Zealand.
“They are high quality,” Buttler said. “They have played in a few franchise competitions and in county cricket, so we do our research. It was good to play against them in a warm-up game, but they are very talented and dangerous.”
In that warm-up game, at the Oval, England dismissed Afghanistan for 160 and knocked off the runs disdainfully in only 17.3 overs, for the loss of one wicket, so scant was the scoreboard pressure. It will be a different game at Old Trafford if the Afghan batsmen can bat through their 50 overs: playing shots is not their problem, building an innings is, as has always been the case for Associate members on being elevated to Test status.
Buttler has scored 18, 103 and 64 in this World Cup. That should mean there are a lot of runs to come from the 28-year-old, who is in a purple patch, at least against the white-ball game.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2019