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Buttler rues the one that got away as England slump to rare home-series loss

Captain insists he will grow into new responsibilities after Pant reprieve proves crucial

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Rishabh Pant survived a costly stumping chance from Jos Buttler on 18  •  Getty Images

Rishabh Pant survived a costly stumping chance from Jos Buttler on 18  •  Getty Images

Jos Buttler conceded that his costly missed stumping off Rishabh Pant probably made the difference between victory and defeat in the series-deciding third ODI against India at Emirates Old Trafford. However, he denied that the lapse had anything to do with the extra mental load of taking on England's white-ball captaincy.
Pant's unbeaten 125 from 113 balls - his first ODI hundred - came after a decisive stand of 133 with Hardik Pandya, one that allowed India to recover from a dicey 72 for 4 and chase down England's sub-par total of 259 with five wickets and 47 balls to spare.
However, Pant himself should have been the fourth Indian wicket to fall, for just 18, when Moeen Ali tempted him down the pitch in the 16th over, and beat him with sharp turn past the outside edge. Buttler, however, could not cling on, and when Hardik, on 6 at the time, steered a loose pull off Brydon Carse over the head of fine leg, who had wandered in from the rope, two big opportunities to access India's lengthy tail had been gone.
In the end, Pant never gave England another sniff in a magnificently composed performance, one which he sealed in style with a flurry of six fours from his final seven deliveries, after Hardik's own Player-of-the-Series-sealing display had ended on 71 with a fine low catch from Ben Stokes at short midwicket.
"Give good players a second chance, and there's a good chance they'll hurt you," Buttler admitted, after England had suffered just their third ODI series loss at home since 2015, all of which have come down to a decider at Old Trafford. "Rishabh Pant is a fearless player, someone who is great to watch in all formats. It's his mentality that sets him apart. He looks like he gets great backing.
"If we took those chances, we would probably have had a good hold in the game with a long tail for India. But with the score we put up, we were going to need to take all our chances to have a chance of winning the game.
"We just need to be better," Buttler added, having also overseen a 2-1 series loss in the T20Is against India. However, with a brand-new ODI series against South Africa looming in Chester-le-Street as soon as Tuesday, he also conceded: "We have to reflect quickly as there isn't much time."
Buttler himself has endured a mixed time with the bat in this leg of the summer. He made an important 60 from 80 balls at Old Trafford, to shore up England's innings after their own top-order wobble, but his returns have dipped since his stellar run of form at the recent IPL - not to mention his exploits in the Netherlands last month, where his unbeaten 162 from 70 balls underpinned England's world-record total of 498 for 4.
He has assumed the full-time captaincy from Eoin Morgan since that innings, and has been obliged to forge a new working relationship with the incoming head coach, Matthew Mott. But Buttler was adamant that he would get to grips with the new responsibilities as he grows into his expanded role.
"At times, I've found absolutely fine, to be honest," he said. "I missed a chance today, but I don't think that's got anything to do with captaincy, so I'm not worrying too much about that. I feel good, I've been in some of the best form of my life, and I still feel in great touch. Form isn't just the score.
"I'm learning lots, I found the first week busy but I feel more comfortable now," Buttler added. "There have been lots of games in a short space of time, which has been a challenge, so it'll be nice to have a day to reflect. I feel I'm an experienced cricketer but a young captain, with an opportunity to grow and learn about the role. It will take a bit of time, I need to walk before I can run."
More broadly, Buttler recognises that England's batting has been off-colour this series - partly because of the sustained quality of India's attack, but also because of a relative lack of familiarity with the 50-over format. It was England's priority from 2015 to 2019, but with the cycle currently between back-to-back T20 World Cups, the longer white-ball format has been a scarcity of late. Indeed, the five batters in England's ODI top six who were integral to that World Cup triumph three years ago hadn't played together since until last week's Oval defeat.
"We haven't played much ODI cricket recently and it's about working out the rhythm," he said. "We've played on great batting wickets [in the past] and the balls haven't done much. Over a period of time, you need to be able to adapt. That's our ambition.
"We just haven't got in and had long partnerships," Buttler said. "Every time we have, we have started to score. I'm not concerned, but throughout the whole summer so far, in the T20s and the ODIs, we just haven't batted our best and we just have to play better for longer."
One undoubted positive for England was the performance of Reece Topley, who backed up an eye-catching display in the T20I series with nine wickets at 9.00 in the ODIs - all of which came in the space of 16.5 overs at Lord's and Old Trafford.
When Topley backed up his career-best 6 for 24 with three more scalps in his first 4.1 overs of the decider, it seemed England were on course for victory. And yet, he bowled just seven overs all told at Old Trafford - a decision that Buttler said was partly a tactical decision but also involved a degree of player management given Topley's well-known injury history.
"He's been brilliant," Buttler said. "He got his opportunity and took Man-of-the-Match at Lord's and the T20s at Trent Bridge as well. We were trying to search for ways to create wickets and it's been a tough schedule as well, and Reece is just creaking a bit, so we will just have to look after him a little bit, as we will all our players."
England's intense schedule - partially caused by the need to shoehorn in the postponed fifth Test from India's 2021 series - means there is just a 48-hour turnaround until they take on South Africa at Chester-le-Street. But with the need to look after England's quick bowlers in particular, the chances are that Matthew Potts, one of England's stars of the recent Test successes, may be given a chance for an ODI debut in front of his home fans.
"We have to look after the players, the schedules are incredibly tough," Buttler said. "The thought of a three-and-a-half hour bus to play on Tuesday… there's risk with the bowlers. We'll have to manage guys, and maybe rest a few.
"Matthew Potts comes into the squad, there's a guy who is exciting to see in ODI cricket if he gets his chance. Reece has been through a lot and has a great understanding with what he needs, and all the bowlers need. We don't want to push guys too far."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket