Jos Buttler, England’s stand-in captain, says he is proud of the manner in which his side stayed true to the values that won them the 50-over World Cup at Lord’s two years ago, despite succumbing to a thrilling seven-run defeat in the ODI series decider against India in Pune.
Faced with a stiff target of 330, England had slumped to 168 for 6 shortly after the halfway mark of their innings, but kept throwing their punches to the bitter end. Sam Curran belied a previous ODI highest score of 15 to finish with 95 not out from 83 balls, but a lack of batting partners undermined his attempts to seal the chase, as he was forced to turn down singles in the frantic closing overs.
And with Dawid Malan producing a run-a-ball 50 after his promotion to the full squad as an injury replacement for Eoin Morgan, and Liam Livingstone playing his second free-spirited innings in as many ODIs after stepping into Sam Billings’ role in the middle order, Buttler believes that England have made strides on this white-ball leg of their India tour, despite losing the decider in both the 20-over and 50-over rubbers.
“You play the game to win matches and to win series, and in the must-win games, we haven’t quite managed to do that, so of course, we’re disappointed with that,” Buttler said. “But there’ll be some great learnings taken from the tour, and some great exposure to players playing in this part of the world for the first time.”
“Once again, we’ve expanded the talent pool available to us in one-day cricket, building ahead to the T20 World Cup in a few months’ time and, of course, the 2023 World Cup later on down the line as well.
“So anytime we expand that player pool, that creates competition, that creates better performances, and that’s the upward trajectory that we’re always after as a side, that continuous improvement.”
Despite the disappointment of defeat, England’s efforts in the final ODI were a significant improvement on their somewhat flaky demise in the first ODI, when a 135-run opening stand between Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy had reduced the requirement to less than a run a ball, only for all ten England wickets to tumble for 116 inside the next 28 overs.
This time, with Curran reprising the big-game mentality that has set him apart as a star of Chennai Super Kings’ IPL line-up, England took the contest right to the wire, with India’s anxieties revealed by a series of lapses in the field, most notably a trio of simple dropped catches from Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur.
“A huge part of our success as a side has been that never-say-die attitude to take games deep,” Buttler said. “A lot of our bowlers are very accomplished batsman, and Sam played an outstanding innings there. He will take a lot from that moving forward, even though there’s the disappointment of losing the game.”
“I haven’t really done something like that for a while, especially for England, so it was really pleasing,” Curran said of his innings. “I had a few messages from the dug-out, just to try and take the majority of the balls and take the game as deep as possible, so it was a massive learning curve for me. But in the end we lost the game, so I’m a little bit disappointed.”
Despite the valiance at the back-end of their innings, England effectively lost the contest after losing too many experienced batsman in the first half of their chase. Bhuvneshwar Kumar‘s new-ball burst accounted for both Roy and Bairstow before they could get going, while Ben Stokes fell to a miscued full toss off Thakur, just when he seemed set to build on his start of 35 from 39 balls. Buttler himself never got going in an off-colour 15 from 18, and was left to watch the denouement from the sidelines.
“There was always genuine belief that run-rate was never an issue,” Buttler said, as England kept consistent tabs with a requirement that, while Adil Rashid was on hand to keep knocking the singles and rotate the strike, rarely got above seven an over.
“Adil and Sam played brilliantly well and were whittling down the score,” Buttler said, “and then it was great for Sam to take ownership, and to take us all the way down to the wire.
“Anytime a game starts to come within reach, that’s when it starts to get harder,” he added. “Everyone on the ground started to get a bit tense, and the guys in the dug-out as well, but we’re all very proud of the way Sam played. He showed all the traits that we know he has, an abundance of character, and the skill level he has embodies what we’re about as a team.”
At the age of 22, and with batting at this stage of his career the second string to his bow, Buttler welcomed the huge strides that such a performance could make to Curran’s developing career.
“Sam’s a young guy, and many guys are never really exposed to that kind of situation in their whole career, so he’ll take a great learning from that,” Buttler said. “I can’t think of many times myself that I’ve been in those situations, so there’s always a bit of suck-it-and-see about how to make the right decisions and take the game forward.
“So he’ll be much better equipped if he’s ever in that situation again, and I’m looking at it as well, as a fellow player and the other guys in the team, if we were in Sam’s situation, how would we take that game forward. So all of us in the team, and the squad, will have taken great learning from watching him, and trying to think through how we would take that situation down individually as well.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket