Buttler urges perspective after Gayle onslaught
Crouching behind the stumps at the Wankhede on Wednesday, Jos Buttler had a bat's eye view of Chris Gayle at his brazen best, as he watched England's hopes of an opening match victory disappear into the Mumbai night on 11 contemptuous occasions.
For a man whose next assignment after this tournament will be a maiden stint with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, Gayle's performance was an education for Buttler in both the short and the medium term. But the rough treatment that he doled out, in particular to the spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, will have long-term implications for England's tournament hopes if they fail to bounce back with victory on Friday night against their most familiar recent foes, South Africa.
"We came up against a great innings from someone who can do that," said Buttler. "We weren't the first side and we certainly won't be the last, either. I think it highlights that you really have to be 100% on your game against someone who's capable of that sort of innings, but we have to park that game. We know it's gone now, and to advance in this tournament we need to focus all our energy on the next game."
England, understandably, opted against a practice session this morning - a period of quiet contemplation by the hotel pool is more than enough prep for a team whom England have faced in 11 matches and three formats since December. And it is not as if West Indies' methods left anything to the imagination where the Wankhede is concerned either. The pitch is full of runs, bowling is fraught with danger, and Buttler knows that forewarned will be forearmed.
"Against these top players you have to execute your skills," he said. "You can have as many plans as you like, but if you can't execute a skill to that plan then you're stuffed anyway. If you need to be able to bowl a yorker in front of thousands of people to one of the world's best batters, then you've got to be able to do it or they're going to hurt you like we saw last night."
Gayle's brilliance implied that no total would have been safe, and yet Buttler admitted that England had let their chances slip earlier in the match, by failing to press on to a total that could have given their bowlers the protection that they needed.
In particular, Buttler suggested, the opening partnership of Jason Roy and Alex Hales failed to press on in the way that might have been hoped after negotiating a promising platform in the Powerplay. And he was critical of his own finishing as well, as a threatening effort of 30 from 20 balls ended with a tame miscue to square leg off a low full-toss from Dwayne Bravo.
"With the bat we were probably par at best," Buttler said. "I think probably in the first six [overs], those two guys who have been so consistent in getting us off to good starts, when they catch fire they could put on even more. And then again at the end, we finished the innings well. Myself or someone else could have had a couple of really big overs, and instead of getting a 30, we could have make it a 60 and taken us up to that 200 score."
Overall, Buttler was eager to remain phlegmatic. Tournament cricket invariably serves up precarious scenarios on the back of untimely defeats, but such is the structure of this year's World T20, England could once again be leaving the party before it has started if they cannot turn their fortunes around immediately.
"You come to these tournaments, they're hard games," said Buttler. "Especially the format, to go to the semi-finals you've got to win games. But that's tournament cricket. If we lose one game and win five in a row and win the World Cup, we'd be happy with that.
"You just have to take it as it comes," he added. "You do the same things. It's still a game of cricket, you still have the same emotions and the same thought processes - it's still 20 overs, it's still 22 yards. We've got to focus on that and learn from what happened last night because playing against good teams, you've got to be right up there on your game to win these matches."
South Africa, Buttler conceded, will offer few surprises coming into the contest. England know their methods from claustrophobically close analysis over the past few months, and doubtless recognise that Friday night's showdown could be a trial by rapier rather than broadsword if AB de Villiers follows Gayle's big show with his own unique stylings.
But, as their errors in the West Indies contest comprehensively demonstrated, England's focus has to be on self-improvement rather than worrying unduly about what their opponents have to throw at them. It has, after all, been the mantra of their recent upturn in white-ball cricket. Fear is the enemy when one's natural game is the aim, and Buttler admitted that nothing that happens in the next few days will come close to the misery of their colourless capitulation at the World Cup.
"I think we need to put a bit of perspective on it," he said. "Ten months ago at the World Cup was some of the worst feelings I've ever had on a cricket field. But you still come back from them, you just dust yourself down and go again.
"Guys who are inexperienced are loving the thought of playing the World Cup and playing these big games, especially in India where cricket is just so high-profile," he added. "The only way you can get more experienced is by playing, so they'll have learnt from that and grow from that. And of course, if anything was a shock to anyone last night, or was different, then of course it's not going to be tomorrow night."
De Villiers, with his recent record at the Wankhede, might have something to say about that. But it is hard to fault the optimistic sentiments from a team that is still learning on the hoof.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket