Shortly after England's 10-wicket mauling of India
in Adelaide, Jos Buttler
walked towards Sky Sports' Ian Ward for the latest in his line of post-match interviews. As he came into frame, he was embraced by Eoin Morgan
, the sort of hug team-mates give each other after a resounding performance. It also felt a little like the baton being passed from master to apprentice.
It has been a fascinating dynamic having Morgan as part of the commentary team in Australia given he was so recently involved with England. Not being part of the side by the time of this tournament was not wholly unexpected, but his retirement did come suddenly during the English season after a series in the Netherlands and thrust Buttler into the job little more than four months before a World Cup.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given there had also been the arrival of a new coach in Matthew Mott
, it was not an easy start during the English season: three out of the four limited-overs series against India and South Africa lost. When Buttler opted to hand over the wicketkeeping gloves
during the Hundred there were even the odd murmurings as to whether he had too much on his plate.
To compound things, Buttler then suffered a calf injury which ended his tournament early and would go on to rule him out of the England's seven-match series against Pakistan. However, significantly, he went on that tour as a non-playing member as Moeen Ali captained them to a 4-3 win. There was an ambassadorial role about it, given the significance of the tour, but he also recognised the importance of continuing to build towards the T20 World Cup.
Now he stands on the eve of the final having had his two best games as England captain, victories against New Zealand
and India, sandwiched either side of a tense affair against Sri Lanka
, where he has both delivered with the bat
and marshaled the team outstandingly in the field.
"I think it's part of my own journey as a player and as a person to now be at this stage of my career where I'm a captain, learning at something very new that I haven't done before, and that's exciting to get the chance to do that," Buttler said. "As frustrating as the summer was in terms of results, I think I actually learned a lot through that period, with the benefit of having a few months to reflect on things I probably would have done differently or what certain situations arose and how they made me feel and how I reacted to them. I feel like I'm growing into the role day by day."
There had been promising signs in the warm-up series against Australia when in his first innings for nearly two months he hit 68 off 32 balls
in Perth with England coming out on top in a high-scoring game (the type that has not been seen at this World Cup). There were more runs in the last match
after the series was secured with a tactically smart display in the second fixture
, not least the work with Sam Curran to get Tim David bowled behind his legs.
But the pressures at a World Cup are very different. The consequences of decisions or bad days so much higher. England had a very bad day against Ireland
at the MCG, not just in losing the game but seemingly being tactically off the pace when the rain was looming. It is probably over-stating the situation to say things were on the brink for Buttler, but an early exit from the tournament would have left a lot of questions.
Against New Zealand at the Gabba, he accelerated at the key moment to push England towards a match-winning total then used a couple of tactical match-ups to good effect: Moeen opened the bowling and conceded just four runs, while Curran removed the dangerous Finn Allen. Glenn Phillips nearly took the game away, but England held their nerve.
Buttler was even better in the semi-final against India, and the aforementioned interview with Ward and Morgan highlighted some of his tactical moves in the field. Buttler said that fielding first had been based as much on knowing how India like to chase as anything else, and his use of Adil Rashid earlier in the innings was because he was aware of Rishabh Pant's presence on the middle order. Rashid had an outstanding evening, taking 1 for 20, removing the pivotal figure of Suryakumar Yadav.
He took a gamble in leaving Chris Jordan with three overs to bowl in the final five during his first outing of the competition, but the earlier decisions had kept India quiet enough that even Hardik Pandya's late damage did not prove to be a game-changer.
"Hopefully I've got more time ahead myself as a captain and with Matthew Mott we can hopefully shape the next era of English white-ball cricket," Buttler said. "Of course, we're still reaping the rewards of Eoin Morgan's tenure and the changes that have happened in the white-ball game in England, and that's clear to see in the strength and depth of the talent we now have."
When Buttler lofted Mohammad Shami straight down the ground for six it put the most emphatic statement on the most emphatic of personal and team performances. One more win and the transition of the Morgan legacy into the Buttler era will be complete.