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Jos Buttler’s uptight England must deliver against laid-back Australia
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Jos Buttler’s uptight England must deliver against laid-back Australia

If the vibe of the captain sets the tone of the team then the first of this weekend’s superclásicos in the T20 World Cup could be viewed as a slightly uptight England versus an Australia side that appears in tune with the rhythms of island life.

In the red corner for Saturday’s resumption of Ashes hostilities at Kensington Oval is Jos Buttler. He was a little bit prickly at the start of the week, irked by questions about how the approach to this title defence will differ to the blowout in the 50-over World Cup last winter, and has since seen the margin for error in Group B cut by Tuesday’s washout against Scotland. It probably reflected a suspicion that his job, and that of the head coach, Matthew Mott, are hugely contingent on a strong campaign.

And in the green corner – not canary yellow for this one – is Mitch Marsh, who, despite now being in his 30s, still carries a lovely air of wide-eyed wonder about being paid to do his hobby, not to mention the scruffy-haired look of a guy who woke up at 11am (and only then because mum was banging on the bedroom door). When he strolled from hotel to ground last Sunday for the captain’s pre-tournament press conference with his shirt off – coat-hanger shoulders and rig on show for those stuck in what passes for traffic here – he could easily have been mistaken for a travelling punter.

With Test and one-day international skipper Pat Cummins in the ranks for this one, Marsh seems a good fit as regards Australia’s outlook. They are 10,000 miles from home, where the winter football codes are typically dominating the sporting discourse, and are in a part of the world that they seldom have the good fortune to enjoy. The trophy cabinet is already well stocked, too, after last year’s World Test Championship win, Ashes retention, and that 50-over World Cup triumph in Ahmedabad. As such, they could almost be said to have a free hit at securing what has already been dubbed cricket’s “grand slam” by their media. Fail to do so and the blowback is unlikely to be fierce.

Selection pretty much reflected this before departure, with 13 white-ball world champions among their squad and Jake Fraser-McGurk, T20’s new Mr Berserk, only a travelling reserve (thoughts and prayers etc regarding the hardship of this).

And unlike England, thwarted by those downpours in the week, not to mention a little twitchy during the 10 wicketless overs they did manage to send down, Australia enjoyed a decent, and at times challenging run, in that opening victory over Oman.

David Warner talks to Jos Buttler. View image in fullscreen

That ascent to a match-winning 164 for five also underlined how, for all of England’s pre-tournament talk of a “slugfest” sitting on the menu alongside the catch of the day (always mahi-mahi, it seems), adaptability is likely to be needed. Australia had slightly stumbled to 50 for three by the ninth over and yet with the now slightly craggy David Warner shoring up an end, Marcus Stoinis lit the afterburners. A fresh pitch has been prepared for what is an afternoon start and England’s attack would hope to be an upgrade on Oman. But unlike their opponents, Australia have already batted on the square, allowing a better feel for its character at this time of year.

As such, despite England sitting 11-10 up in all men’s T20 internationals between the two countries, and leading 2-1 during the eight previous T20 World Cups, Marsh and co may be viewed as slight favourites for this one. That said, it is not like defending-champion status was not well-earned by Buttler’s men two years ago, a point Marsh was keen to stress 24 hours out from the toss. And as more regular visitors to the Caribbean, plus two Bajan-born players in Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer in their expected XI (plus a third adoptee in Phil Salt), these are hardly uncharted waters.

The question for England is whether to stick with the dual pace of Archer and Mark Wood – “just one of them” was Marsh’s preference – or draft in the left-arm swing of Reece Topley for the latter. Australia meanwhile have confirmed an instant return for Cummins, who was rested in the week after going the distance with Sunrisers Hyderabad during the Indian Premier League. Surprisingly, he has never played cricket in the Caribbean. Nathan Ellis may be the seamer to make way here – Mitchell Starc is said to be fit – although this reduces some of their variety at the death.

The red corner is likely to have far greater support from Kensington Oval’s iconic stands – and that particularly inviting swimming pool on the boundary’s edge – and not just because of the greater number of England fans. The organisers are expecting it to be close to a sellout, the locals rather taken by this one.

Barbados may have been a republic these past two years but with its reputation as “Little England” living on and at least two of their own on the park, they may not be entirely neutral. This was the case back in 2010 when the two sides met on this ground in the World T20 final and England stormed to victory by seven wickets, with Warner, retiring after this tournament, the one remaining survivor from that heady day.

If England lose this one, the chances of it being the last encounter here with their old foe will only increase.

Source: theguardian.com