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England finally given licence to thrill

A licence to "go out and have a swing" lay at the heart of England's remarkable rebirth in the first ODI at Edgbaston, according to Jos Buttler

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
A licence to "go out and have a swing" lay at the heart of England's remarkable rebirth in the first ODI at Edgbaston, according to Jos Buttler, the Man of the Match who swung harder and more flamboyantly than any of his team-mates.
Four months on from their World Cup drubbing at the hands of Brendon McCullum's New Zealand, and with their one-day fortunes so low that anything other than a full-frontal assault on their previously timid ODI reputation would have been a dereliction of duty, England successfully transplanted the gung-ho attitude that had served them so well in the first Test at Lord's to rack up both their highest score in ODI history, 408, and their largest margin of victory, 210 runs.
And Buttler's role in that result was not simply limited to the personal glut of runs he recorded, vast though it was. His 129 from 77 balls, including a 66-ball century, means he now owns both of the fastest hundreds in England's one-day history, following his 61-ball effort against Sri Lanka at Lord's last year.
Every bit as important was Buttler's refusal to deviate from his natural game after England had slumped from 171 for 2 to 202 for 6 in the 30th over. It was the sort of hiccup that might, only a few months ago, have persuaded the World Cup team to retreat into its shell and bat out their overs.
However, Buttler said, not only would that attitude have been pointless against a team as aggressive as New Zealand, he and his team-mates sensed a desire from the cricket-watching public for the players to break their shackles and have a go.
"We couldn't have had more of a licence to go and get bowled out for 150 in 20 overs today," Buttler said. "Everybody in this room wanted it, English cricket, the paying public and everybody who watches this sport.
"I think that is a big change - everyone has accepted that English cricket can do that and I think if we were bowled out for 200 in 30 overs today, I don't we would have been criticised that much, either. So we had a real lease of life to go and play that way."
It's a lease of life, if truth be told, that England's coming generation has been itching to embark upon for months. The joie de vivre shown by Buttler was set in motion by his fellow centurion, Joe Root, who refused to be cowed by the loss of Jason Roy to the very first ball of the match as he clattered along to his own remarkable slice of a record-breaking performance, 104 from 78 balls.
That pair's approaches won the plaudits, but their attitude echoed down the order. Root's partner in a tempo-setting second-wicket stand of 50 was Alex Hales, whose Twitter account has, throughout a frustrating year of bench-warming, declared he is a "FOMO sufferer". However, in the new England culture, he needs no longer to have that Fear Of Missing Out as his forthright methods are sure, finally, to be indulged.
Sam Billings, on debut, didn't quite come off but Adil Rashid - in his first outing for five years - was a revelation with bat and ball, only weeks after he had been overlooked on the tour of the Caribbean on the assumption that he wasn't yet ready to be trusted. And equally heartening was the thrusting return of Steven Finn, shed of the reticence that allowed McCullum to destroy him at Wellington, and restored to the role of attack leader for which he had been earmarked since the tour of Bangladesh in 2010.
England's efforts were aided, to a degree, by the relentless aggression that has become the hallmark of New Zealand's captain, McCullum, who challenged England to hit their way out of a corner with attacking fields and the arguable over-use of Trent Boult, in the absence of his fellow spearhead, Tim Southee, at the top end of the innings.
But with the horrors of Wellington so fresh in England minds, when Southee's seven wickets and McCullum's own 77 from 25 balls condemned them to defeat with more than 37 overs left unbowled, it was hugely to England's credit that they were able to distance themselves from such raw mental scars.
"We don't want to get carried away at one performance and think like English ODI is fixed and we're going to win the World Cup," Buttler said. "But I think just looking round - the two training days were really exciting, watching what some of these guys can do in the nets, the energy they have brought to the group. There's definitely been an extra buzz.
"Everyone has seen in county cricket how guys like Jason Roy and Sam Billings have played innings that make people stand up and take notice. When they do that in international cricket, there will be a wider audience taking note. When we realise the potential of everyone as a group and can all do that at the same time, it will be a really exciting place to be."
But on the day, Buttler was the man who made it all possible, by trusting his talent and his instinct, and picking up where he had left off in a remarkable match-seizing T20 Blast onslaught in the Roses match on Friday.
His innings did include a period of consolidation, but not as we have known it from England teams in the past. Buttler took 28 balls to record his first boundary but the upshot of his relative caution was a world-record 177 for the seventh wicket with Rashid that kept the innings motoring along even in apparent adversity.
"At 200 for 6 we kept going," said Buttler. "But I tried to take low-risk options. I wanted to score at a run-a-ball, you always do, that's what my method is, but hitting the ball on the floor to start with.
"I hit a couple through the slips and, if those chances are taken, we could potentially have been all out for 250. But if you scrape up to 250 in 50 overs, that's not going to win you too many games any more. So you have to be looking at 300-plus at least.
"New Zealand were bowled out in 30-odd overs but they had to keep going. There's no point just knocking the ball around and taking 280. You play to win."
The obvious frustration is that this has all come four months too late to impact on England's desperate World Cup showing but it would require a heart of stone not to warm to such a no-holds-barred reinvention, especially when it comes replete with the sort of jaw-dropping 360-degree strokeplay that Buttler was able to unfurl in the latter overs of his innings.
"It wasn't through a lack of trying before, it's not as if we wanted to play that [badly]," Buttler said. "We weren't playing well enough. If we weren't going to go out and have a swing when could we?"
"I'm sure we'll have some challenges going forward as well, especially in this series against a top side who will come back and keep fighting like the way they do and playing very aggressive cricket," he added. "So there are some big challenges ahead but today was a great day and one that we should really enjoy."

Andrew Miller is a former editor of the Cricketer. @miller_cricket