There was a moment in England’s final ODI against Pakistan, on a clear, bright spring afternoon in Yorkshire, that spoke to the sense of possibility and excitement that surrounds the team right now, a matter of days from the start of a home World Cup. When Jos Buttler stuck out a boot to block Sarfaraz Ahmed’s back-foot glide, and then in the same movement swept up the rebound and ran out the Pakistan captain as he stood on the brink of a century, it suggested even Dame Fortune might have developed a soft spot for England.
It was a moment of great skill, with a nod to that wiliest of stumpers MS Dhoni, as well as being, according to Buttler, “really lucky” – but then which successful team didn’t occasionally require the rub of the green? Australia may be the self-styled “lucky country”, while downbeat fatalism is more of an English vibe, but then the England of Buttler and captain Eoin Morgan is not quite the same as those that have gone before.
“It’s certainly the first time it has got someone out,” Buttler said of his footwork at Headingley. “Obviously Dhoni was one of the first guys I saw doing that kind of thing – watching batsmen shape up to play certain shots, trying to use your leg to stop it. I was just really lucky that it dropped next to the stumps and he’d set off for a run.”
That dismissal had been preceded by another run-out, in which Buttler’s role was to throw to the non-striker’s end, where Adil Rashid collected and swivelled to back-hand the ball unsighted on to the stumps. Far from showboating at the end of a series that England would win 4-0, this was just the sort of casual brilliance that occurs for a team when everything clicks – and a sign that their hopes of becoming the first from England to lift the World Cup will not be weighed down by doubt, expectation or a rather dismal history in the competition.
“I’m really excited by the buzz,” Buttler said, speaking at the premiere of OPPO’s TV advert to launch their global partnership with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. “There’s pressure and expectation but I think that’s to be embraced, we can use that as a positive for the team. We’re playing in our own conditions, it allows us to get away from the tournament when the pressure gets ramped up, we can escape to friends and family as well. It’s an amazing opportunity to be around at the right time and play in a home World Cup.
“It’s a lot of fun [playing for England], that’s one of the main things. The brand of cricket we’re trying to play and the way we’ve been trying to really express ourselves and push the boundaries of what we’re capable of, it breeds a lot of fun.
“The cricket we’re playing on the field has been really exciting to watch, and we’ve obviously had some success. The dressing room is a brilliant dressing room to be part of, a close bunch of guys, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of mickey-taking and it’s just a great environment to be in. It’s definitely the changing room I love being in the most, and I think that gets portrayed on the field.”
While England appear to revel in their current status as world No. 1 and a side repeatedly pushing at the boundaries of the 50-over game, they do not get too hung up on success, either. Team spirit, as Steve Archibald once put it, may be an illusion for the winners’ podium but there are tighter bonds in the England dressing room, where a generation of players have come of age together – Buttler became a father a month ago, while several of his team-mates, including Joe Root, Jason Roy and Chris Woakes, also have young children.
Like a highly specialised NCT group, this England squad, largely unchanged over the four years since the last World Cup, have been through a lot together. And while Buttler is a character who always seems to have been able to separate professional failure from personal fulfilment, the sight of him marking his audacious 50-ball hundred in the second ODI against Pakistan with a baby-rocking celebration for young Georgia Rose hinted at great freedom happily cohabiting with great responsibility; suggesting, perhaps, that England have brought balance to their undoubted force.
“It definitely puts things in perspective, which is always something I’ve really enjoyed about my cricket – trying to keep perspective on it, remember to enjoy it, it’s not the be all and end all,” Buttler said. “She certainly does that, it’s great to come home after a good or bad day and realise it doesn’t really matter that much.
“Another good thing about the side is there’s quite a few of us in the same boat at the minute, being new fathers, so it’s a topic of conversation around the dressing room … It’s been great fun, part of the journey of the side. A lot of us have spent a lot of time together and played a lot of cricket together as youngsters and now quite a few have young families, so it’s a nice feeling.
“I think the team has grown up together in the last few years, it’s very genuine that the guys enjoy each other’s success, enjoy each other’s company. We really do see that in the cricket, it does transform those relationships in the dressing room and off the field, into the performances on it.”
It will soon be time for England to be judged on those performances, and Buttler is confident that he and his team-mates can live up to the external hype and go on to lift that elusive trophy: “Yeah we can, we definitely can, but it’s down to us go and do it.” The World Cup is tantalisingly near but there is a week-long lacuna to fill with media obligations and squad announcements, warm-up fixtures and, probably, a few night-time nappy changes. Unsurprisingly, Buttler can’t wait to get going.
“It’s almost a feeling of you just want the tournament to start proper. We had four games against Pakistan, one washed out, two more warm-up games to come… We just want the first game to start. I think everyone’s ready, there’s been a lot of talk around the World Cup and the build-up. The date everyone’s really looking to now is that one against South Africa.”
Jos Buttler was speaking as Global Partner OPPO unveiled their ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 TV advert and launched the OPPO Reno Series. To view the new TV advert and to find out more info on the new Reno Series, visit https://twitter.com/oppo