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Match Analysis

Buttler's challenge is to find his own voice, and continue England's evolution

New era began with a loss, and focus on bowlers than batting depth - Buttler will have to learn quickly ahead of T20 World Cup

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jos Buttler was playing his first game as England's full-time white-ball captain  •  Getty Images

Jos Buttler was playing his first game as England's full-time white-ball captain  •  Getty Images

It was an incongruous handover. "Today, I start my new life as an England fan," Eoin Morgan wrote in his programme notes for his old side's T20I series against India. "I think for now it makes sense to detach myself from the England set-up a little bit, to give Jos [Buttler] and Motty [Matthew Mott, the white-ball coach] some room."
But it was hard to escape Morgan's presence at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday night. Rather than relaxing at home with a glass of red wine in England's first game since his international retirement, Morgan was on site in a crisp white shirt, watching on from the Sky Sports "pod" on the boundary edge.
At the start of the 12th over, when Chris Jordan returned to bowl his second over, former England batter Nick Knight was thrown on commentary. "Morgan has gone to his most experienced bowler because he knows the importance of this partnership," he said, before correcting himself: "Buttler, even…" The change of captaincy has loomed for some time, but it will take some getting used to.
Buttler has led England before in white-ball cricket - five times in T20Is and nine times in ODIs - but this was his first game in full-time charge, and represented a reality check as to the scale of the role. He has a significant burden on his workload in this format in particular - opening the batting and keeping wicket as well as now captaining - and this was the first of a dozen games in a 25-day window which will be a significant test.
The first obvious difference of the Buttler era was in selection. Morgan prioritised batting depth at all costs throughout his tenure, but under Buttler in the first T20I against India in Southampton, England fielded an extra bowling option compared to the sides they played throughout last year's World Cup, with Tymal Mills unusually high at No. 9.
"That will develop over time," Morgan said of their balance. "There's flexibility depending on how we see fit."
But the biggest change was simply his position behind the stumps, rather than in the field. Morgan would typically field at extra cover, giving him easy access to his bowlers throughout an over to discuss plans. "I always felt I wanted to give the bowler clear direction at the top of his mark," he explained on air.
Buttler, by contrast, generally opted to leave his bowlers to the task at hand, delegating responsibility to two senior players in Moeen Ali and Jordan when he felt a message needed to be relayed. At times, bowlers appeared isolated: during Matt Parkinson's second over when deep extra cover, long-off and long-on were in place, there were no red shirts within 20 yards of the bowler.
"If you need to talk, it's easy to just to do the legwork as a wicketkeeper and touch base at the start of overs," Buttler said. "A lot of the time either Chris Jordan or Moeen Ali is at mid-off or mid-on relaying messages as well. But I like the bowlers to take some ownership; I like them to try and lead that as much as they can.
"And of course, doing that legwork, we can have good conversations as to what we're trying to achieve."
Buttler made several attacking moves, not least opting to dangle the carrot to India in the powerplay by giving the third and fifth overs to Moeen. It was a qualified success: Moeen removed Rohit Sharma with an arm ball which took his outside edge, and had Ishan Kishan caught top-edging a sweep to short fine leg. However, he returned 2 for 26 in the powerplay, being swept for consecutive fours by Rohit and launched over long-on by Deepak Hooda for back-to-back sixes.
Buttler had spoken in the build-up about looking to solve England's death-bowling problems by taking early wickets, and was successful up to a point: the final six overs cost 48 runs as Jordan, in particular, thrived by bowling hard lengths, but India still managed 198 after putting England's new-ball bowlers under pressure with their early intent.
With the bat, England fell a long way short, and Buttler conceded that India's "fantastic new-ball spell" had changed the game. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh both found prodigious swing with the new ball in stark contrast to England's seamers; in typical Morgan style, Buttler suggested that might have been different if they had "hit one to the stands to reduce the swing".
Buttler himself is among the world's most in-form white-ball batter after following up his MVP-winning IPL season with two stunning innings against Netherlands last month. But he could use a score in one of this weekend's T20Is against India to remove any suggestion that his batting will suffer under the burden of his new role.
There was not much he could have done about his first-ball duck on Thursday night at the hands of Bhuvneshwar, whose hooping inswinger tailed in sharply to crash into leg stump. It was his fourth duck in his last seven innings as captain, but there has been no kind of pattern to those dismissals, spread out across a four-year period.
Morgan's one-word description of Buttler's captaincy at the innings break was "exceptional", but it will take time for both of them to become used to their respective new roles. They are close friends, and live nearby too, but Buttler's challenge is to find his own voice and continue England's evolution; with just over three months until the World Cup, he will have to learn quickly.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98