Every single successful team has a philosophy of its own. You can argue with that, but as long as it is successful, they ought to follow it. Even though India’s anchor-heavy set-up came under fire on multiple occasions, India found success and belittled teams in the shortest format like plucking apples from the garden. Windies are two-time winners, Pakistan rely on their pacers and anchors while Australia and South Africa are long searching for their soul in the format.
But none have really embraced a near-perfect solution as much as England have in recent memory, fuelled by an intrinsic desire to change the history books. England’s success formulae was an equation of risk and reward which could buckle down at any moment but if it succeeds, like it did in the 2019 World Cup, they can win the whole thing.
A success formula as critical as this is bound to come under scrutiny too. In the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final, when England messed up a straightforward game against Pakistan, they were asked tough questions, the credibility of their process in tatters, and more importantly, they were told to mend ways by many pundits of our great game. We all know what happened after that, but perhaps, for the case of last night’s game against Sri Lanka, it is important to reconsider everything.
Batting has not been easy in Sharjah this year. Since IPL resumed in the Middle East, teams have scored at a run rate of 7.1 and a strike rate a shade under 120 at the venue. Exactly a year before that, since IPL 2020, a run rate of 8.9 at the venue was staggering for batters in any phase and an average strike rate of 147.9 meant every single Sharjaj record was taken with a pinch of salt. Was Sachin really a great batter or a stats-padder by scoring a hell of a lot of runs here?
Well, if anything, Jos Buttler’s innings last night provided a close resemblance to what Sachin Tendulkar had manifested in his career all those years ago. Unperturbed and focused on the job at hand, Buttler made a calculated assault on the Sri Lankans to emerge as the first Englishman to score a century in all three formats of the game.
What Buttler essentially did was take the downturn out of the equation. With Jason Roy, Dawid Malan, and Jonny Bairstow back in the hut for almost nothing, Buttler had to negotiate the middle-over spin carnage as well as the awkward angle posed by Dushmantha Chameera. While he was successful in containing Chameera, by attacking from the word go, others were not easy to trample down, thus he adopted a completely different approach of playing within himself. With Eoin Morgan, despite not being in the greatest of form, out there in the other end, he could afford to slack off a bit against the leggies and let his skipper take over.
“I think staying patient was the key, but I managed to get a partnership with Morgan. I found it really tough early on in the innings. There was a point when we were thinking to get to the 120-run mark, but then we got going and got 160-plus,” Buttler said in the post-match presentation.
Unlike many batters, Buttler knows he has a range of shots that could compensate for slow batting in the middle-overs. When he plays a long innings, he has a particular kind of template - going berserk in the powerplay, slowing down in the middle overs, and then taking the attack in the death. In between over no.7 to 15, he strikes at 126.43, a stark contrast to his powerplay strike rate of 148.83 and a death over SR of 169.38. It was also the phase where he hits the least number of boundaries, with a 50.05% Boundary percentage as compared to 72.98% in the first six overs and 63.07% in the last five.
He didn’t shed that approach on a night things had already gone haywire. A slightest bit of panic would have been hugely detrimental.
Further, the England team management must be credited for the last-minute change in strategy coming into the World Cup. Moeen Ali was on and off the squad for the majority of his career but his success in IPL convinced the management to stick with him and created a specific role in the side. Liam Livingstone’s success was down to him being allowed the flexibility to explore his potential without any constraint. Their presence in the middle-over along with the ability to chip in with useful overs every now and then ensured that England had options aplenty. Livingstone’s performance last night embodied the very ideology on which their success story is built.
“I'm incredibly proud of everything we've done tonight. I felt the guys had to fight unbelievably hard, particularly with the ball and in the first 10 overs with the bat. Conditions continued to change and then Tymal going down asked another question of ourselves but I thought Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali stepped up unbelievably well to support the other guys with the ball,” Morgan later said in the post-match presentation.
With four wins in four games, England have virtually sealed the top spot in Group 1 already and are most likely to be joined by either Australia or South Africa in the semi-final. But if things didn’t go their way at any moment, they can take inspiration from how they battled everything to land this coup against Sri Lanka and be content afterward.