Match Analysis

Joe Root urges England to evolve amid struggles to move on from Eoin Morgan era

New captain Buttler needs support, says team-mate, especially in wake of Stokes retirement

Joe Root dug in for England but ran out of support as South Africa closed out victory, England vs South Africa, 1st ODI, Chester-le-Street, July 19, 2022

Joe Root dug in for England but ran out of support as South Africa closed out victory  •  AFP/Getty Images

Three defeats in four ODIs, a trusted ally gone and a team in desperate need of some "R&R".
Jos Buttler is probably wondering if he got the limited-overs captaincy off Wish. Sure, it fits, but it's nowhere near as sleek or as comfortable as it looked on the model skipper. As for the loose threads, he is fighting the urge to pull on every single one of them.
It's hard not to sympathise with Buttler. He looked to have reassumed the world's burdens on his shoulders as he addressed the media in his press conference after defeat in the first ODI with South Africa. The eyes that had turned from blue to red, the grimace: the last we'd seen of those were during the previous winter's Ashes tour. Buttler's move away from Test cricket may have been necessary, but the assumption of more responsibility elsewhere has seen the stress follow him.
And so it was Joe Root, a man who has benefitted from his own liberation from the stresses of captaincy, who came in to stand alongside his white-ball captain in a front-facing manner. The retirement of Ben Stokes ahead of the 62-run defeat to South Africa has created a void. Root, England's top-scorer with 86, is willing to fill it, and has urged others to step up too to lift a dressing-room full of talent but lacking a mixture of belief and clarity.
"I think any senior player has that responsibility," Root said, when it came to sharing the leadership workload. "Of course it's not in an official capacity but there's so many different ways you can lead and there's so many different ways you can help and be a valuable member of a team.
"I've been around this team for a long time now and it's a great opportunity for guys like myself and other experienced players to stand up and try and fill some of those voids."
Perhaps the most worrying aspect is, even with the mitigation of a rammed schedule (Tuesday's match is the seventh of 12 white-ball matches in the space of 24 days) and the baking heat, it is hard to gauge England's plans with bat or ball. The hallmark of Morgan's team in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup was clearly defined roles within the group, and a reassuring sense that, even when under the pump, the game was never too far away from them.
How much of that was Morgan's poker-face remains to be seen. The evidence so far suggests that it was an important part of the whole machine, which now seems in desperate need of some new parts. That a few players are on the "other" side of 30 is probably not as relevant as the fact that a number of younger faces are primed, ready and waiting in the wings.
Perhaps, if the next 50-over World Cup was not next year, such players would get a clearer run as part of a necessary refresh. Root, though, believes evolution can still take place with some of those who have been a part of this journey for the last seven years. That, he feels, will allow Buttler and head coach Matthew Mott to work out their own methods.
"I think as a team, you've always got to look to evolve," Root said. "You always do. And I think we did that very well over a four-year period. I don't think we just said 'right, this is how we're going to do it for four years, and we can't move away from that'.
"I think we grew and we evolved and developed, and became good in different situations in different conditions around the world.
"We had to be if we were going to be consistent and take some of the best teams on in their own conditions. I think that's exactly as things will have to happen moving forward as well. I know Jos has got a great cricket mind, he understands this game brilliantly.
"He's going to be a great captain. And I don't think these results are a fair reflection on the way that he's going about his business as a leader.
"Sometimes it does take time for things to bed in. I don't think it will take that long with him. I just think that we haven't had a lot of the format. We've had a very busy schedule. There's also still a lot of players that aren't available for selection at the minute through injury.
"I think for Jos and a number of the guys who've been around this set-up for a couple of years, there's been a lot of change in a very short space of time.
"And that sometimes can just take a little bit of getting used to, and there's not been that time yet where you can really sit and reflect and sort of work things out.
"There's some very talented players, some great cricket minds that can go on and do some special things, like Eoin has done and Ben has done as well for the last seven to 10 years."
The elephant in the room with regards to the ODI side, however, is that 50-over cricket has rarely seemed so unimportant. Not only is it regarded as the third priority in international cricket, but the English domestic system now values it as the fourth. The very best players no longer play the format in England because the Royal London Cup runs parallel to the Hundred. The best example of the shift was debutant Matthew Potts, who had only played 10 List A matches in his career, and once since July 2019 - and ironically enough, got through just four overs on the day anyway.
Root admitted that the current schedule is a problem but seemed resigned to the fact that nothing much can be done about that.
"It can be," he said when asked how difficult it is to pick back up a format that is otherwise ignored. "But you know we've mentioned there's some very experienced players who have played a lot of cricket and understand the game inside-out.
"So we've got to just turn things around as quickly as we can, because the games do come quite thick and fast, you get straight back up like that Chumbawamba song. "You get knocked down, you get back up again" ... that is exactly how we've got to go about things.
"It is hard, the schedule, it is, but as a player you can't really change it. So if you want to play you crack on, unfortunately."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo