As the captain returns for the first T20 World Cup warm-up against Australia, he is in a cautiously optimistic mood
On a glorious spring day in Perth, the eve of their first game, Jos Buttler insisted that no clouds linger on his horizon before a Twenty20 World Cup for which England consider themselves serious contenders. “I certainly don’t see us as favourites,” he said. “I see us as a very dangerous side that the opposition will be wary of playing against.”
Though Liam Livingstone seemed to be moving a little gingerly in training and is not expected to play in the first of three warm-up T20s against Australia, the remainder of the squad seems in good health and spirit. The team for Sunday’s game at Perth Stadium will not be released until the toss, but with Buttler having spent the tour of Pakistan sidelined by a calf injury it will come as a significant boost that England’s captain will be reporting for duty.
“I’m back to 100%,” Buttler said. “I had a good time in Pakistan rehabbing and getting back to where I need to be. I’ve been taking it slow and cautiously – I probably could have played earlier but it just felt like with the World Cup around the corner it was the right thing to do.”
Midway through the fourth month of his captaincy, Buttler is preparing for the most important few weeks of his career, while trying not to be overburdened by that fact. “The 2019 World Cup, and the journey everyone went on to get there, that felt like a huge moment but this is different,” he said.
“To be a captain in a World Cup is a very proud moment. Above all else I want to really enjoy it, I want to not try and put too much pressure on myself or the team and just encourage everyone to enjoy the opportunity.
“Australia is a fantastic place to tour, it’s going to be a great tournament, and I just want everyone to play good cricket and really enjoy it.”
Despite the stardust brought by Buttler’s return the series will get off to a low-key start. Australia are resting several of their best players for the opening game – though Mitch Marsh and Marcus Stoinis will return – and England’s captain said he will “hopefully at some point” field a full-strength side before the week is over.
“I’m sure both teams have got one eye on the World Cup but we’re looking forward to a really competitive series,” he said.
“Australia are one of the favourites for the tournament so it’s a great challenge for us to go up against them and get really battle-hardened in Australian conditions, against the team that knows those conditions best, and that will stand us in good stead for the tournament.”
While their enthusiasm for this game, particularly given the travel it has involved, appears limited, Australia also believe they are facing ideal opponents at this point of their preparations. Minutes after the team landed on the west coast, Matthew Wade described England as “the benchmark” in white-ball cricket, and credited the thrashing they administered in the Super 12 stage of last year’s World Cup with kickstarting a revival that led to Australia lifting the trophy in Dubai last November.
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“They demolished us and that kind of changed the way we went about playing T20 cricket from that point onwards,” he said. “We’ve been playing a different style of cricket since. That was the real lightbulb moment for the team.”
There is still time before the World Cup starts for England’s fringe players to inspire a few lightbulb moments of their own and Buttler’s decision to delay fielding his first-choice side has the benefit of allowing them more time to force their way into it. But for now he does know what it is – including the identity of his preferred partner at the top of the order, though he will allow the speculation about which of Alex Hales and Phil Salt will join him in opening the batting to continue for a while longer.
“I probably do [know who it will be], but it can change, can’t it?” he said. “They’re both fantastic options, two guys with different styles and I like that, guys sticking to the way they play. We have an idea of what we think is our strongest XI but the game can be unpredictable and maybe someone plays fantastically well and forces their way in. Fingers crossed we don’t want any injuries, but you’ve also got to plan for those things.”
The makeup of the team that will open England’s World Cup campaign in this stadium in just under two weeks’ time is not the only thing being kept under wraps here. Staff at Perth’s impressive new venue, known as the Optus Stadium under a sponsorship agreement signed in 2017, are in the process of obscuring all signage related to the phone company for the duration of the tournament to comply with ICC regulations, with the enormous lettering on the facade due to be shrouded on Monday. There can’t be many cricket grounds with an extra cover on the outside.