Wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler has denied that England’s World Cup problems are down to a case of nice guys finishing last.
Experienced paceman Stuart Broad suggested earlier this week that he had never played with a “nicer bunch of blokes” than the current World Cup squad, but admitted that could be holding them back.
Coach Peter Moores has attempted to coax more from some players in team talks during the tournament while Broad mentioned the softly-spoken Buttler, who was appointed vice-captain at the start of the tour, as someone who was not naturally inclined to speak his mind.
Buttler thinks drawing conclusions from that is a red herring, as reasons are sought as to why England have failed to fire at the World Cup, and instead believes there is a far easier explanation – they simply have not played well enough.
“I’m sure you can still be a nice guy and play good cricket,” he said.
“Maybe that’s what we’re missing, but I don’t think it is. I just think we’re not playing that well.
“Some of the nicest guys in the world are the best cricketers in the world. You can be a nice guy but you can also be a ruthless cricketer who wants to win games and I think that’s what we’ve all got to be.”
Buttler is aware, however, that there is an added expectation for him to help set the tone for the team as one-day vice-captain and wicketkeeper.
The 24-year-old took over as England’s first-choice wicketkeeper in all formats during the summer, when he made his Test debut in place of Matt Prior, who was a steely force in the England sides that rose to the top of the rankings.
Buttler accepts he must try to follow in those footsteps, albeit in his own way.
“At times you have to drive the side forward, that’s something Matt Prior did well for years, and he looked the real voice of the side,” he said.
“That’s something I have to be as well.
“There are different ways you can do it, you don’t just have to be vocal.”
England have more pressing concerns with their World Cup future at stake in two remaining pool games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Both lower-ranked nations must be beaten to keep England’s quarter-finals hopes alive and, even then, that will not be enough if the Tigers beat New Zealand.
Buttler is certain the young squad – nine players are at their first World Cup – will not be cowed by the situation.
“If we don’t think we can turn it around we may as well go home,” he said.
“Everyone’s got to have that determination and drive to turn it around.
“If you’re admitting defeat already there’s no point in playing these two games.
“We feel like we’re underperforming and everyone’s desperate to turn that around.”
England have stuck with an unchanged line-up throughout the tournament, but Buttler suspects there will be changes for Monday’s clash with Bangladesh in Adelaide.
The position of Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance at No 3 appears most at threat after his return of 36 runs in four innings, with Alex Hales his most likely replacement, although the bowlers might not feel completely secure after Sri Lanka comfortably completed a record pursuit of 310 with 16 balls to spare last time out in Wellington.
England returned to training at St Peter’s College in Adelaide yesterday after three days off. Buttler believes the uncertainty over selection will create an added spark in the days leading up to their critical clash.
“I think so and I think that would be good for us,” he said.
“We’ve got three training days here where guys who aren’t in the side they are desperate to put their hand up to say they should be playing and the guys who are in the side and haven’t performed as well as they would have liked want to get some form and say, ‘No, I am the right man and stick with me’.”
There were perhaps some instructive moments at yesterday’s session, when the focus was on middle practice, as Hales batted alongside Ballance while openers Ian Bell and Moeen Ali were kept together.
There has been a clamour for Hales’s inclusion although the hard-hitting 26-year-old is short on match practice.
He has played just one innings in almost two months on tour, when he hit a rusty-looking 31 from 47 balls in a warm-up match against Pakistan on February 11.
If Bell and Moeen are retained at the top then Hales would most likely slot in for Ballance, although Buttler admits England must look to be flexible with their line-up.
England have made over 300 in their past two games, but against Scotland the wicketkeeper concedes they should have made more before 309 for eight was not enough to trouble Sri Lanka.
“Against Scotland we could have pushed on and got a bigger score so we have to be flexible to score big scores,” he said.
“We need guys at the top of the innings to play well and get us in position to be flexible. That’s a gamble we can take.”
Buttler has been a victim of a rigid order at times and in those two games he came in with 31 and 27 balls to go in the innings.
He declared before the World Cup that he felt the time had come in his career to play a more important role so there has been some frustration at not getting more of a chance.
“You’re always ambitious,” he said. “Everyone from one to 11 wants to face more balls. ”
Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen claims he has ‘a few offers’ to consider from prospective county employers. The exiled England batsman confirmed that his advisers received a bid from Leicestershire for his services in the NatWest t20 Blast this summer – adding that others have been submitted too this week, leaving him with decisions to be made.