Lucknow, India – Former England captain Eoin Morgan has backed Jos Buttler to retain the ODI captaincy despite the defending Cricket World Cup champions’ dismal performances in India and believes the management and selectors have made poor decisions that have derailed England’s title defence.
Morgan’s own tenure as captain began with the calamitous 2015 World Cup campaign, when England failed to progress past the group stage, and he was the driving force behind their white-ball transformation that culminated in victory at the 2019 tournament.
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He says he has been shocked by the scale of England’s four defeats in their first five matches: by nine wickets against New Zealand, 69 runs against Afghanistan, 229 runs against South Africa and eight wickets against Sri Lanka.
England are on the brink of early elimination as they face unbeaten hosts India on Sunday.
“They’ve not competed at all, and they’re still to play the best teams in the tournament,” Morgan told Al Jazeera in Lucknow on the eve of Sunday’s game.
“With the team in 2015, there was almost little or no expectation to win the tournament. But the team of 2023 are expected to get to the final and win and, to lose that way, just quite crushing defeats, that probably makes it more dramatic and worse than 2015. It’s not nice to play and it’s not nice to watch.”
England’s ODI success under Morgan was built around aggressive batting and a belief they could outscore any opponent and, while nine players from England’s successful 2019 campaign are still in the squad, Morgan believes a loss of direction and confidence is behind their dramatic decline.
“The bit for me that doesn’t wash is the bit of everybody being out of form,” Morgan said. “Given how strong the team is, for me, that just doesn’t exist and doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I think England have gone away from what has worked for them for a long time and in the space of three weeks.”
Morgan pointed out that, just five weeks ago, England beat New Zealand 3-1 in an ODI series and the Black Caps have gone on to be one of the top teams of the tournament.
“What has been missing is confidence, belief. For a side to play well, you need to be quite relaxed and confident and when your confidence gets knocked you need to be reassured. Some of the mistakes they’ve made so far have not been reassuring,” he said.
Morgan believes that selection has played a “significant” role.
“Chopping and changing throughout different games, and not quite knowing the best balance of your team, can ring through a changing room,” he said.
“You’re talking about very experienced players that have been around a long time. They know their game and the team’s game inside out. They can recognise when things aren’t going their way and almost need that reassurance and that belief and that confidence booster to kick on past it.”
‘Debilitating the team’
While Morgan believes Buttler must shoulder some responsibility for the disappointing campaign, he says there are questions for the management team of coach Matthew Mott, selector Luke Wright and managing director Rob Key.
Mott took over the side in 2022 ahead of a victorious T20 World Cup in Australia, in which England confirmed their status as the game’s leading white ball side.
“There is a line of command on the decision-making process that has failed. When it comes to infrastructure or structural decisions, you have to question the leadership,” Morgan said.
“That’s a challenge for Rob Key and I’d say a bigger challenge for Matthew Mott. This World Cup and possibly the next one [T20] in the West Indies and America in 2024 will be his two biggest challenges because he’s in and amongst the team, he knows them inside out now, and his man management will be tested because that level of expectation will not go away.
“It will still be there in the T20 World Cup to go and win it because of the players that they have.”
He said mistakes were also made by Buttler.
After winning the toss against South Africa, Buttler elected to field first in oppressive conditions, a decision he later admitted was wrong after England suffered a record defeat.
“I’ve made decisions like that, poor decisions on the back of other poor decisions. It’s a domino effect,” Morgan said.
“Decisions at the toss are normally made the previous day and then, because you’re under so much pressure to deliver, you don’t take in the information of what the day is giving you, the heat or the pitch or various different things and you just stick with the same decision.”
Morgan said the combination of poor decisions in that match, including over selection, was indicative of England’s muddled thinking.
“Mistakes around selecting the balance of the side, the worst was probably the South African game where David Willey was batting at seven. Yes, David Willey is a more than capable all-rounder, but it goes away from playing any of the all-rounders that have played previously,” he said.
“Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone weren’t even in the team which was a huge shock to me.”
He added: “Everything has a knock-on effect, but when you change selection that creates more doubt and more question marks around what style you want to play.”
“You’re almost debilitating the team before they get the opportunity to play. It’s criminal to make mistakes like that.”
Morgan backs Buttler to stay
Languishing at the bottom of the table after four defeats in five matches, England now have to win every game and hope other results go their way to finish in the top four of the round-robin group stage and qualify for the semifinals.
But they most likely face the prospect of playing a series of dead rubbers as a post-mortem analysis swirls.
Morgan still believes Buttler should remain at the helm.
“He’s a brilliant captain, a great cricket brain, one of the best white ball players of our generation and when you look where England have come unstuck in this tournament it’s around the decision making,” he said.
“There’s something awry, whether it’s miscommunication, or being swayed by data over gut feeling or not using the strengths of the team ahead of everything else.”
He said England can change the set-up to better support Buttler.
“I think the more support and more structure around what the decision-making process looks like will help him go on and win more World Cups.”