Rob Key will fly out to India at the end of the week to select squads for the white-ball tour of the Caribbean next month but, chiefly, to decide whether Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott are the men to lead an England reboot.
As such, it makes the penultimate match of this dismal World Cup defence, against the Netherlands in Pune, about more than the consolation prize of a 2025 Champions Trophy spot or restoring a scintilla of pride. If Key, England’s director of men’s cricket, meets the touring party in Kolkata after a seventh defeat from eight, the status quo would look distinctly untenable.
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There have already been suggestions that, having appointed him last year, Key retains support for Mott; credit very much in the bank after he and Buttler led the T20 World Cup victory in Australia 12 months ago to unify the two global white‑ball belts. England have also struggled in India historically, with even Eoin Morgan’s all-conquering side suffering series defeats in 2018 and the pandemic tour three years later.
While Buttler and his frazzled players ducked out of media duties the day before the match, they have already publicly stated that their own shortcomings are primarily to blame. Privately the chat has been similar this past week in Ahmedabad and now Pune; a blame game is yet to materialise in the ranks, even if some feel the relaxed, approachable Mott is yet to truly “stamp his own mark” on the 50-over set-up.
Not that this wasn’t understandable. Brendon McCullum turned down the white-ball job last year, preferring what he called the “gruntier” Test vacancy, and it makes sense that Mott would have been wary of changing too much given England’s previous success. It was also only for the one-day series against New Zealand at the end of the home summer that a full-strength squad came together; the product of a bulging schedule in which the Test team led by Ben Stokes and McCullum rightly had priority of resources.
England’s director of men’s cricket Rob Key was in India earlier in the tournament and is to fly back to talk to the management team in Kolkata this weekend. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
There has, however, been the question of messaging and given this was posed by Morgan – a man still called “boss” by members of the squad – it is unlikely to have been a punt or done to establish distance in his new job as a commentator. Be it the provisional squad that was locked in until it wasn’t, confusion over Jofra Archer’s status as a reserve, the brief mid-tournament abandonment of the side’s usual structure, or early admissions about waning confidence that would have never have left Morgan’s lips, the diagnosis has legs.
And so as well as deciding how much of the squad to cull for three ODIs against West Indies next month – and how much to protect the core of the Twenty20 side that plays five matches in preparation for the defence next year of a second title – Key must establish if the relationship between Buttler and Mott is still working. Though unlikely to have been deliberate, the latter publicly calling Stokes the team’s “spiritual leader” for addressing the side after the defeat against Afghanistan cannot have boosted Buttler’s self-belief.
Boosting his side’s position in the table is the sole priority on Wednesday, the Dutch looking down on rock‑bottom England via a marginally superior run-rate. They claimed a notable scalp for their one victory, too, South Africa being rolled for 207 chasing 246 in Dharamsala to offer a reminder that complacency against the only associate nation in the tournament – resources far smaller than the rest – can end with red faces.
Not that England should need any reminding, having lost twice against the Netherlands in the previously named World T20. Adil Rashid is the one survivor from the first of those upsets – a four-wicket defeat at Lord’s in 2009 that also included Key himself – while Buttler and Moeen Ali were in the England side humiliatingly bowled out for 88 in Chattogram in 2014. A team that talks of “Total Cricket” senses a World Cup hat-trick is eminently possible.
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This Dutch side is led by a wicketkeeper-captain in the runs, the Tongan-born, Australian-raised Scott Edwards having registered two half‑centuries so far to Buttler’s zero. In Bas de Leede and Logan van Beek they have a couple of zesty, wicket-taking all-rounders. The vein-popping celebrations of Roelef van der Merwe are well known to Somerset supporters, likewise Paul van Meekeren, the brisk seamer who briefly worked as an Uber Eats driver three years ago to make ends meet.
England v Netherlands: possible teams
England: Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (c&wk), Harry Brook, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Brydon Carse, Adil Rashid, Gus Atkinson
Netherlands: Max O’Dowd, Wesley Barresi, Colin Ackermann, Sybrand Engelbrecht, Scott Edwards (c&wk), Bas de Leede, Saqib Zulfiqar, Logan van Beek, Roelof van der Merwe, Aryan Dutt, Paul van Meekeren
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England must surely look to draft Harry Brook back into their side, while the seamers Gus Atkinson and Brydon Carse have pushed hard in training. Whichever XI takes the field in Pune, they must deliver for a captain and head coach awaiting the arrival of the actual boss.