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Match Analysis

Fab Five fall flat as England fail test of world-beating reputation

Returning of conquering heroes from 2019 comes a cropper at hands of inspired India

Ben Stokes was one of four England batters to fall for a duck  •  Associated Press

Ben Stokes was one of four England batters to fall for a duck  •  Associated Press

It was supposed to be the grand return of the World Cup five, at a ground famed for its ability to bring old friends together. By the end, no one got the reunion they were promised.
This was the first one-day international to feature all of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler since the 2019 World Cup Final. With 50-over cricket playing very much second fiddle since then, it was perhaps no surprise, what with the pandemic fast-tracking separate squads playing concurrently and the need to rest multi-format players. The quintet - England's top five on Tuesday - have never once featured together in a T20I, though they did manage four Ashes Tests together at the end of that heady 2019 summer.
The time between drinks, specifically from that deserved boozy sesh at Lord's (starting three years ago this Thursday, and spilling over into a three-dayer for some) to just after 2pm with 13.5 overs gone in this first ODI at the Oval, when the hosts were 53 for six and all but one of the five had been dismissed, has felt like a lifetime. So long, in fact, that England are good at Test cricket now.
What was supposed to be a response to the T20 series loss to India last week ended up being the an even more brutal defeat in this 50-over opener. Buttler's call ahead of this match for his players to be braver was answered in the worst way possible. The returning Test heroes of Root, Stokes and Bairstow managed just seven between them (all of them to Bairstow) to go with Roy's five-ball duck to get things going. And those that forked out as much as three figures for tickets, anticipating 100 overs of competitive cricket, had to make do with a 44-over rout. By 4:55pm, they had to start thinking about other evening plans.
England's night will no doubt be more subdued than that of those who filed out aimlessly into the streets of south London. What introspection there will be is limited to that of individuals. And perhaps the most prominent individual on the batters' minds will be Jasprit Bumrah, who adopted a fuller, "Test-match length" to make use of a white Kookaburra seaming and swinging in muggy conditions, and claimed a career-best 6 for 19 in England's 110 all out. Rohit Sharma was a distant but deserved second-best performer with an unbeaten 76 that quickly (if inhumanely) put England out of their misery.
As far as analysing where things went wrong, there won't be too much by way of autopsy between now and Thursday's second ODI at Lord's. Buttler would have also bowled first had he won the toss, and while David Willey, Reece Topley, Brydon Carse and Craig Overton would hardly have matched Bumrah and Mohammed Shami's opening burst, England would have at least batted in friendlier conditions. And beyond Roy's skewed-bat drive which brought the ball back onto his stumps and Liam Livingstone's cowboy flamingo for the fourth nought in the top six, they will feel this was just one of those losses.
At least, they'll try. Part of the schtick in the early stages of Eoin Morgan's tenure was to smoothen the sharp end of defeat, especially in the bilaterals played between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. They highlighted areas to improve, blindspots to be addressed, conditions that had not yet been mastered and, if not those, then they were character-building.
Naturally, Buttler - England's top-scorer with 30 - went to a few of these pages of his predecessor's playbook, with the added justification of a new era with himself and white-ball coach Matthew Mott, not to mention a group of players who need to spend a lot more time together while also being pulled away by other formats.
"It's a long time since we have all played together," Buttler said after the match. "It's tough, I think the schedules are increasingly difficult for all format players to play all the games.
"The guys you talk about - Ben, Jonny Bairstow, guys who are going to be some of the busiest cricketers in the world - the key is to turn up to those ICC events clear with what your best team is, but also with guys fresh and as good to go in those tournaments as they can be. So there will be times in bilateral series that guys miss out because it is just unattainable for guys to play every match."
The trouble is, however, that the next 50-over World Cup is in October next year. Between now and then, more or less slap-bang in the middle is a T20 World Cup, which realistically means ODI cricket will only be given priority from the start of 2023.
Perhaps the bigger issue is, well, England are supposed to have done all the working-out, hence being defending champions and, moreover, setting a standard for ODI batting. And so defeats like this, even to a team like India and a quick like Bumrah, still sting.
"If I look back over the past five, six years, our batting has been our super strength and in this form of the game," Buttler said. "So you look at the names of the guys in there, they are some of the best players we've had. So certainly no need to panic at all."
Panic or not, Buttler looked visibly disappointed. Angry, even. Not having Morgan's poker face is no slight on him, merely a reflection of Morgan's superhuman inscrutability. The irony is, Morgan's job of lifting the limited-overs standards has made it that much tougher for his mate.
"I think it is a tough job on days like today," Buttler said, referring to captaincy as a whole after a challenging start to his tenure enters its second week.
"I will try and remain as balanced as I can. In ODIs, when you have had a lot of success over such a long period of time, it's always going to be tough trying to continue that and evolve that, and that pressure and expectation is always going to be there to do that.
"That is the standard we have set ourselves over a long period of time and we deserve that expectation. We have worked hard for that over a long period of time."
Buttler is right, of course. The expectation, especially for those who poured through the gates at The Oval, was to witness an England side who had made this format their own. The job now becomes showing everyone, perhaps even themselves, that they are still good for it.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo