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Jos Buttler targets T20 momentum as England resume World Cup build-up

Mental wellbeing high on team's agenda as England embark on first tour of Covid era

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Jos Buttler says that England's white-ball cricketers must target victory in South Africa later this month, in order to build the same sort of momentum into their T20 World Cup campaign that they produced in their march to the 50-over title last year.
However, speaking on the eve of England's departure for South Africa, where the squad will be entering another bio-secure bubble ahead of three T20s and three ODIs at Cape Town and Paarl, Buttler added that there would be an extra focus on mental health during the tour, with players encouraged to seek support if they find the lockdown lifestyle getting them down.
It will be the first time that England have undertaken a tour since the Covid pandemic began, although ten members of the tour party, Buttler included, have recently returned from a six-week stint at the IPL.
And while three of those players - Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran - will be rested from the ODI leg of the tour, Buttler himself said he was happy to put himself forward for both series, having been able to spend time with his wife and daughter out in the UAE, and having played just three ODIs since the World Cup final at Lord's 16 months ago.
"South Africa's a great tour and we won't get to fully enjoy it as we usually would," Buttler said. "But I think everyone's become accustomed to what it's going to be like.
"Most of us had an Xbox quite high on the priority list, then there's Netflix, and reading books," he added. "But if you're feeling under pressure or not quite feeling yourself, it's about having the confidence to open up and talk about it.
"I think all of us will go through it at different stages where you feel a bit homesick, or claustrophobic at not being able to get out and about, as you might usually want to. We just have to make sure that we're very aware of that, and one thing that the ECB is excellent at is looking after the players' mental wellbeing."
Despite being a comparatively low-profile tour, Buttler said there would be an onus on role clarity in the 20-over format in particular, with the next T20 World Cup scheduled to take place in India in just under a year's time.
"To go and win the series is the ultimate aim, of course," Buttler said. "We're building towards a World Cup but one thing we did very well in 50-over cricket was win and learn at the same time.
"We're building into a tournament, so of course winning gives you confidence. When you can play well, you gain role clarity in the side, and you can try to nail down your 11 and 15 [squad]."
England surged to the No. 1 ODI ranking in the course of the four-year cycle from the 2015 to 2019 World Cups, and after losing away to South Africa in 2015-16, they lost just one more bilateral series in 16 attempts, away to India the following winter.
"By the end of that cycle, the 50-overs team nearly picked itself, and that's a great place to be as a side," Buttler said. "It gives a lot of confidence to guys playing a lot of games with each other, because when you head into a tournament in high-pressure situations, you're very familiar with your own role and what you expect of your team-mates."
The postponed 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia - the final of which had been due to take place at Melbourne this past weekend - has now been pushed back to 2022, with England's 50-over World Cup defence coming the following winter in India. And Buttler admitted that the absences of Stokes, Archer and Curran from the ODI series was a reflection of the format's place in the pecking order in the current international cycle.
"With such a congested fixture list, it's always important for the ECB to find time for guys to be able to rest and get enough time away from the game to be in a good headspace," Buttler said. "With two T20 World Cups around the corner, it seems that ODIs just at the moment are the ones that the guys look to be resting from."
The tour will be taking place against a backdrop of instability, with CSA facing the prospect of being stripped of its status as a national governing body following months of turmoil. And while Buttler insisted that such issues were beyond the remit of the squad, he did admit to a tinge of relief when it was confirmed, at the eleventh hour, that the trip would be going ahead as planned.
"We heard what had happened with the board a few weeks and months ago and we were all expecting that would be sorted out for our tour," Buttler said.
"I'd been reading in the paper that the tour was in doubt but Ashley Giles [England director] got in touch with all the players to say we're confident it will go ahead but we'll obviously keep everyone in the loop.
"I think everyone's grateful that it's going to be going on, especially so close to your departure date when you're starting to really gear up to go. But it's nothing to do with us, we players are just looking forward to cricket and the boards can take care of those kind of things."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket