Match Analysis

England accept Bangladesh battering in pursuit of long-term gain

A lack of batting options on tour has cost England - but they will hope for a World Cup dividend later this year

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sam Curran was one of four middle-order wickets to fall to Mehidy Hasan Miraz  •  AFP/Getty Images

Sam Curran was one of four middle-order wickets to fall to Mehidy Hasan Miraz  •  AFP/Getty Images

Too many cooks spoil the broth - but too few batters leave a T20 team exposed. England only picked five for their three-match series in Bangladesh, and find themselves 2-0 down after posting totals of 156 and 117, both of which have been chased down with relative ease.
England's initial 15-man squad for this series featured seven batters. Then, Tom Abell strained his side while playing for England Lions in Sri Lanka, and Will Jacks hurt his thigh in the second ODI. No replacements were called up, and so England's Nos. 8-10 from the side that won the T20 World Cup in Australia have batted at Nos. 6-8 in Bangladesh.
Those three - Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan - are all competent players, but have hardly contributed in this series. England's imbalance lurked uneasily throughout their defeat in Chattogram; as they slid from 91 for 4 to 117 all out in Mirpur, then didn't use Jordan with the ball until the 19th over, it became impossible to ignore.
"If we can't put an extra batter or two on the ground in Bangladesh as an England cricket team… I don't think it's good enough just to say 'we're one batter short'," said Nasser Hussain, visibly disgruntled on Sky Sports' coverage. "You saw what it meant to them [Bangladesh] winning today. We have to treat that game with the same respect."
But selection for this tour has been a delicate juggling act, with the vast majority of the squad that travelled to New Zealand for the Test series given time off ahead of either the IPL or the English summer, and a number of white-ball specialists without central contracts opting to play in the Pakistan Super League instead.
Take Jason Roy, for example. England could have asked Roy to stay put for another week when Jacks flew home, but doing so would have meant sacrificing a proportion of his PSL earnings in exchange for three England match fees. Any financial loss would have been relatively small, but the ECB ceded control of Roy's schedule when they opted not to award him a central contract for 2022-23.
In practice, the decision not to hold Roy back in Bangladesh paid off. He could have spent this week opening the batting against a strong Bangladesh attack in challenging conditions; instead, he flew back to Pakistan and thrashed 145 not out off 63 balls for Quetta Gladiators, an innings he described as his "favourite-ever" of a T20 career spanning over 300 games.
Naturally, a handful of fringe players may feel hard done by: Sam Hain, who captained England Lions in Abell's absence at the end of the Sri Lanka tour, is a much-improved T20 player and would have brought some solidity to this batting line-up; Jordan Cox, who has been running the drinks for Lahore Qalandars, was an unused squad member on England's seven-match tour to Pakistan in September and might wonder how he has not been given a chance all winter.
But England's apparent rationale was that those players are low enough down their pecking order in white-ball cricket that the prospects of them being involved in the 50-over World Cup later this year - or the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the US, which is only 14 months away - were minimal. As such, they took the chance to promote their allrounders and give them experience on spinning subcontinent pitches.
"It's a different balance and it's a different feel to the team, wanting to give exposure to guys - especially in these conditions - who will also probably play a part in the 50-over World Cup," Jos Buttler said. "It felt like it was a great chance to expose the allrounders, batting maybe one spot higher than they maybe would in our normal team.
"And, look: the way cricket is at the moment, there's a few players who have opted not to be here anyway for various reasons. It felt like instead of calling someone else up, [we would be better served] trying to use the guys who will be exposed to these conditions in the 50-over World Cup as well."
In other words, the short-term pain of jeopardising their chances of winning a rearranged bilateral series that will soon be forgotten would be worth the long-term gain of giving Curran, for example, the chance to bat at No. 6 and face more balls than he usually does in T20 internationals.
It is the same logic that has informed England's white-ball strategy since Rob Key and Matthew Mott took over as managing director and white-ball coach last year, working back from major targets. England's chance of winning this series would have been higher with an extra batter in their squad - but they believed their World Cup hopes would be enhanced without one.

Why didn't Buttler open?

Speaking after the game, Buttler was pressed on his decision to demote himself to No. 4. He has a stellar record as an opener for England - averaging 49.20 with a strike rate of 152.22 - but opted to shuffle down into the middle order for the first time in five years on Sunday. Dawid Malan moved up to open from No. 3, with Moeen Ali replacing Malan in that role.
"We've obviously got a bank of left-handers in our middle order," Buttler said. "[It was] just an opportunity to change that up a little bit. Dawid Malan is very comfortable opening or batting at No. 3 and I just felt like it would be a good change to pose some different questions to the opposition, and try and break up our left and right-handers."
Malan and Moeen's promotions also meant Bangladesh did not target Phil Salt's weakness against left-arm spin until the sixth over - though he was eventually dismissed by a left-arm spinner regardless, for the fourth time in five innings on this tour.
"I'm very comfortable batting anywhere in the order," Buttler added. "I've spent a hell of a lot of my career as a middle-order player. I felt like we've got some good options and it felt like it would be an opportunity to try something different. I don't really read too much into it either way." As the 2024 T20 World Cup comes into view, he will undoubtedly return to the top.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98