Jos Buttler is not known for raising his voice but was said to be ‘seething’ in the gloomy surroundings of the MCG’s Aussie Rules dressing rooms as England thrashed out the reasons behind a defeat by Ireland that leaves them on Friday playing for their World Cup lives.
Buttler was ‘as animated as I have ever seen him’ according to one dressing room source while Ben Stokes ‘spoke well’ to the group as England came to terms on Wednesday with an upset that leaves them needing to beat Australia in a virtual knock-out clash.
The stakes could barely be higher when the misfiring old enemies meet, if the Melbourne rain ever relents, on Friday at what should be a full MCG, with the winners taking huge strides towards the semi-finals and the losers facing near certain elimination.
England stars could only watch on as they failed with the bat to beat Ireland on Wednesday
England captain Jos Buttler cuts a forlorn figure after they lost to Ireland at the T20 World Cup
Players had gone off the field for another rain delay when confirmation of Ireland’s win came
So England know they cannot repeat the strangely lacklustre, almost naive, performance that saw Ireland gain a deserved victory irrespective of the rain that cut short a late charge by Moeen Ali which would probably have got his side out of jail.
England, along with Ireland, had been banished to the football dressing rooms at this vast arena as they were playing in the earlier game in Wednesday’s double header and it was there, in a big, dark, windowless room, that they conducted an impromptu inquest.
They emerged with coach Matthew Mott, under pressure now just a few months after taking this job, vowing to stick by the batters who have twice under-performed in this tournament, and probably retain them in the same batting order.
But he used words like ‘timid’ and ‘tentative’ that have not been heard in conjunction with England’s white-ball cricket for some years and Mott knows he needs a reaction against an Australia side under huge pressure themselves. Otherwise they will be gone.
‘We were a bit stunned after the game,’ admitted Mott. ‘With the benefit of hindsight we should have got in front of the DLS score earlier but it wasn’t to be. The intent was there, we just didn’t hit the ball very well and Ireland were better in the conditions.’
It was the apparent confusion in the England ranks that will concern Buttler and Mott. Even though rain that had delayed the start was expected to return to the MCG they did not show the necessary urgency, at least until Moeen came in, to get ahead of the curve.
England head coach Matthew Mott (left) has admitted the defeat left his side shellshocked
Then, when rain got too heavy to continue with Ireland five runs ahead, there was more uncertainty over how much time was left to get back out and complete the game. The ICC didn’t help when Mott and others within the England camp tried to clarify the situation.
In the end it was left to Nasser Hussain on TV to announce the imminent cut off time which was then relayed to the England team and they knew they could do nothing more to avert a second shock World Cup defeat by Ireland to follow the 50-over upset in 2011.
‘We couldn’t control the rain but what we’ve got to do is stay in the moment,’ said Mott. ‘We’ve had a really good month then we had a bad day. It happens. T20 is a fickle game. We were still probably one shot away from winning and if the game had gone the distance we’d have had a good chance as well. But that’s the nature of the beast.’
Buttler admitted afterwards Moeen and Liam Livingstone should have gone in earlier, particularly as Dawid Malan and Stokes were struggling to keep England in the hunt, but Mott insisted there were no plans to shake up the batting. In Stokes, given the No 4 position here but struggling to make an impact, England still clearly trust.
‘He’s an incredible player in our team and a real leader in our group,’ said Mott. ‘He hasn’t come off with the bat yet but his career would suggest at some point somebody is going to pay the price. Hopefully that’s Australia. You need match-winners and he’s one.’
Ben Stokes has struggled with the bat so far, but Mott has backed the all-rounder to shine soon
At least Australia are under just as much scrutiny and even more pressure than England. Captain Aaron Finch was forced to defend himself after batting so slowly against Sri Lanka it almost cost them a second defeat and it was put to him that no less a figure than Allan Border thinks he should drop himself now.
‘Well it’s a good job I pick the team then isn’t it?’ smiled Finch. ‘I still feel in good form. The other night was an anomaly.’
Perhaps it was but England would be quite happy to see Finch chew up as many balls as possible on Friday. The forecast is again bad – Melbourne will be no hotter than 13 degrees and rainy – and DLS may be a factor again. But England have to seize their moment.
‘I don’t need any motivation,’ said Australian Mott at the prospect of knocking Australia out of the World Cup. ‘I’ve got a lot of friends in their group but you love the one that you’re with and being part of this England group is very special to me.
‘We have two very strong teams head-to-head with a lot on the line. It’s a World Cup. It’s what you play for. It’s cut throat and it’s exciting.’
Let battle, La Nina permitting, commence.
Australia, who England face next, have their own battles too – especially in captain Aaron Finch
Mott, who heralds from Australia, is relishing facing the country of his birth on Friday