England will be hoping for Jofra Archer’s fitness and dismissal, but the T20 World Cup will make or break him

The official motto for the tournament is ‘out of this world’, but it should be ‘this really matters’, because a World Cup tests character far more than the homogenous franchise competitions that dominate the modern landscape.

Just ask Jos Buttler, who is still having to explain his team’s tepid World Cup defense in India six months ago and knows this T20 tournament will define the legacy of his regime with coach Matthew Mott. Was the win in Australia in 2022 the final twitching of the Eoin Morgan team and the India campaign a reflection of the capabilities of this management, or will we see a new England emerge under Buttler and Mott, who have received more support ? We’ll find out.

Buttler has been a bit brusque and has shown the pressure he is under, and he is clearly fed up with being asked about India. “I am focused on this World Cup,” he said when asked about it. He stressed that his side will adapt at every opportunity after criticism of being too rigid in India, but gave little away about the team. “I’m not going to tell you the team, am I?” I’m pretty happy with what we’re trying to do as a team. I don’t have to sit here and tell you.’

A good start against Scotland on Tuesday will lighten the mood and Jofra Archer will return to the public eye in the most eagerly anticipated comeback since Ian Botham served his drugs ban. Archer played two low-key T20s against Pakistan to warm up for the series, but it’s the way he perseveres in tournament cricket over the next month that will give England a big boost for their Ashes charge in 18 months’ time, or if he breaks down again, evoking sorrow for a talent dulled by injury.

Playing in Barbados will also play with his emotions. It is the first time he has represented England on his home island since heading to Sussex in his late teens and indeed his first T20 matches in professional cricket in the Caribbean. He gave glimpses of his pace and wicket-taking potential against Pakistan and gives Buttler a real option in all three phases: new ball, middle overs and death.

Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler smile during a net session in Bridgetown, BarbadosJofra Archer and Jos Buttler smile during a net session in Bridgetown, Barbados

Archer could be key for England in a tournament that will define Jos Buttler’s tenure as white-ball captain – Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Archer’s record in T20 is exceptional. In all matches – domestic and international – he averages 22.4 with a strike rate of 17. The pitch for the Oman-Namibia match on Sunday evening at the Kensington Oval was up and down and will be used for England’s match with Scotland. The staff are not used to a fast pace and Buttler will likely pair Archer and Mark Wood together in the hope of blowing them away, leaving Reece Topley on the sidelines.

At the captains’ press conference on Saturday, Buttler sat next to Australian Mitchell Marsh. When Buttler was asked if he would go for the pace duo, Marsh whispered to him: “Pick one, please”. Buttler, unlike Ben Stokes, prefers not to give anything away about his playing XI in a data-rich format of the sport.

Buttler was sorely lacking an X-factor bowler in India, and Archer could be the difference between making or breaking his campaign. England have done everything they can to make him as comfortable as possible. He is staying at his own home this week rather than the team hotel, and was allowed to fly between Barbados and Britain last year to work on his rehabilitation. He played for his club side, Wildey, without England’s knowledge, which caused some commotion behind the scenes, but the ECB recognized the mental benefits of being at home with his friends due to the long, tedious nature of the rehabilitation.

He was reunited with his beloved dogs, purchased five pit bull puppies upon landing and has set up JA Kennels in his home parish of St. Philip, which bills itself as Barbados’ home of the American Bully XL and the French Bulldog (“worldwide shipping available” ) . Picking up the pace in the nets at Wildey and walking on Crane Beach on the island’s wild east coast, away from the English winter, seems to have worked.

Buttler and Mott hope to be able to reap the benefits of this in the coming month. How much they pick him will depend on the results, but even if England reach the final, the workload isn’t exactly heavy. If he plays every game, Archer will bowl a maximum of 36 overs in 25 days, but they will be cautious and cagey about how to use him.

Rob Key, the director of cricket, is here for the first week to supervise. He selflessly took the blame for the mess in India, but in reality the fault lay with those on the ground who made poor tactical decisions, sent mixed messages and were unable to stop the rot.

Andrew Flintoff and Kieron Pollard during a net session in Bridgetown, BarbadosAndrew Flintoff and Kieron Pollard during a net session in Bridgetown, Barbados

Andrew Flintoff and Kieron Pollard among England’s assistant coaches at T20 World Cup – Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Key has given Mott all the tools this time. Kieron Pollard and Andrew Flintoff improve the ‘atmosphere’ as assistant coaches; Pollard to provide local knowledge and Flintoff to inflate tires. David Young, the sports psychologist who was part of the 2019 World Cup-winning line-up, is back to help with communications. Mott also has his usual entourage of coaches. It’s a sharp difference from the Bazball setup where Brendon McCullum has cut out the sound so the players only listen to two voices that matter: the coach and the captain.

This is an England team that can go all the way or bomb in the most unpredictable formats. A place in the semi-finals is the minimum requirement. They have covered the bases with power hitting, pace in their attack, two left-arm seamers, as well as experienced spinners in Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali.

They are right-dominant in their top order, which could be a match-up problem in T20, restricting batting to the shorter boundaries and taking advantage of the strong crosswinds, although it is not as breezy at this time of year. It is the wetter season and quieter and more humid than when England usually tour between November and April, but Buttler still expects the wind to play a big role. Most of their batsmen have access to all opposing hit areas, so this shouldn’t be insurmountable.

But despite all the data and preparation, it is performing under the pressure of a World Cup that is difficult to predict. There is so much franchise cricket these days with little control, with players jumping from team to team, league to league, while there is always another match to right a previous failure.

World Cups are different. Just look at India, who haven’t won any of these elections since the IPL began, or South Africa, who have immense talent but freeze up when the weather warms up.

There are no excuses for England this time. Everyone is fit, it’s hard to think of a player at home who should be here, they’ve got an army of coaches and Archer is back – but can they cope when it really matters?

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