England in Dhaka departure lounge as they sign off arduous winter with defeat
History for Bangladesh but Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott will move on quickly from 3-0 loss
As Hasan Mahmud's full toss scudded into Chris Woakes' front pad to seal Bangladesh's whitewash-clinching 16-run victory in Mirpur, it marked the end of a long and winding English winter. Exactly six months prior, the first squad of the offseason boarded their plane to Karachi via Dubai for the first of six tours; on Wednesday, the last men standing will return home from Dhaka.
Little wonder, then, that England's performance in Tuesday night's dead-rubber T20I lacked focus. They were slipshod in the field, with Rehan Ahmed and Ben Duckett both dropping straightforward catches; the first prompted Jofra Archer to put his hand over his face, while the second drew a resigned laugh. Only a substitute teacher wheeling a VCR player onto the outfield could have added to England's end-of-term vibe.
The gap in intensity between the sides was most apparent in the run chase, when the game turned on Jos Buttler's run-out. The ball after Dawid Malan fell, slashing Mustafizur Rahman behind, Buttler ran through for a single after Ben Duckett had chopped into the covers. Buttler scampered through, but was ball-watching just long enough that Mehidy Hasan Miraz's athletic pick-up-and-throw caught him just short of his crease.
"I'm really disappointed in myself for not diving," Buttler said afterwards. "You should be fully committed to making that run… it potentially cost us the game." From 100 for 1 after 13 overs, England managed 42 runs off the next 42 balls to fall 16 runs short.
It was, Matthew Mott admitted, England's worst performance out of three bad ones in the T20I leg of this tour. "I thought our first 15 overs in the field were nowhere near the level we'd expect," Mott said. "We really wanted to finish well here… the lead-in was good, everyone was up and about.
"But for whatever reason, we just couldn't get clean hands on the ball, either in the air or on the ground. We showed a bit of ticker at the back end… [but] they were still at least 15-20 over par on that wicket. That one hurts today. To finish the way we did today will leave a bit of a sour taste in our mouths."
Mott's defence of their decision not to bring a sixth batter echoed Buttler's own comments after the second game, and underlined the sense that England saw results in this series as an irrelevance. "If you look at how many players we've exposed this year alone, we've gone a fair way down the depth charts," Mott said.
"The realisation [was] that we're probably better off investing in some batters that were put under pressure in these games. You only learn from your mistakes: the opportunities that they've been given here will give them time to reflect and when we get into pressure situations in World Cups. I'm confident it was the right decision."
The overall sense is that this tour will be swiftly forgotten by England - if not their hosts, who will justifiably use the result to underline their progress in T20Is and, perhaps, to question why they have not been deemed worthy of a reciprocal visit for the last 13 years.
From afar, this series has felt like cricket for the sake of broadcasting commitments and the fulfilment of contracts. The ODIs offered genuine value for both sides, representing competitive cricket in relevant conditions seven months before the 2023 World Cup; England have treated the T20Is like an afterthought.
And perhaps they have been right to. These fixtures were initially meant to represent preparation for the 2021 T20 World Cup in India - which was later changed to the UAE - but were postponed by 18 months as part of the pandemic-induced schedule crunch, elbowed out of the way by the second half of that year's IPL.
For the past three years, England have played so often that it can be tricky to remember which series is preparation for which tournament. These T20Is were framed as opportunities for their 50-over squad, but were also their first since they won the World Cup four months ago, yet their title defence is only 14 months away.
Who could blame the ECB's staff for breathing a collective sigh of relief on Tuesday evening? Three years and one day after England abandoned their tour of Sri Lanka, rushing home in time for the UK's first lockdown, their Covid backlog of fixtures is finally over. In that time, they have played 127 times across formats - only India have played more - of which 72 have been overseas.
England have used 35 different players this winter across five different countries, with countless others travelling around the world as support staff, unused squad members and administrators on diplomatic duty. There is hardly time for them to touch base at home before they are off again, back on the county grind or at the IPL.
It has been a gruelling treadmill; as double world champions and the world's must-watch Test team, England have set the pace for so much of this winter that they could afford to slip off right at the end. While every game of international cricket should matter, some matter more than others. In truth, this was not one of them.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98