Deep in the bowels of Adelaide Oval on the eve of England’s T20 World Cup semi-final against India, Jos Buttler volunteered that it is “in my opinion one of the best stadiums in the world”. In truth it would be no surprise if it made him come out in hives. Buttler has played here six times – two Tests, two one-day internationals and twice in the Big Bash League – and lost on every occasion.
One of those games was the humiliating defeat to Bangladesh at the 2015 World Cup, widely seen as England’s white-ball nadir. The side has been transformed since then, with Thursday bringing an opportunity to bury those demons in Buttler’s first tournament as captain.
“We’ve actually just been talking about that in the dressing room, a few of us,” he said. “Any time you go back to certain grounds, there’s some moments, some memories – and not always good ones, unfortunately. It was a real line in the sand, I would say, that moment in English cricket. To now be in a semi-final, and going into tournaments with a level of expectation that we should perform well, is a great place to be as a team.”
Buttler backed Phil Salt to make an impact in the game if called upon, with Dawid Malan, who has a minor groin strain, and Mark Wood, who has been battling “stiffness”, both injury doubts. Malan was restricted to gently batting away a few low-pace throwdowns in the nets on Wednesday, while Wood – who generally bowls only briefly on the day before a game – attempted a dozen deliveries.
“We will give it as long as we can with those guys, and as always we have 15 guys preparing to play,” Buttler said. “We have some fantastic players who have not yet played in the tournament, and they will be desperate to make their mark. I wouldn’t expect them to be happy that they’re not playing – everyone should have the belief that they deserve to be in the XI and have full confidence that if they get their chance, they’ll perform.”
Salt came into the tournament competing with Alex Hales for a spot alongside Buttler at the top of England’s batting order, but having come out on the wrong side of that call has not played at all. Nevertheless his attitude in training has been widely praised.
“I think he has a fantastic mindset,” Buttler said. “He doesn’t fear anyone and is someone who wants to get on the front foot and take a game on. He embodies quite a lot of what we speak about as a team and how we ask guys to play. Certainly I wouldn’t expect to see anything else from him if he gets a chance to play. He’s not someone who’s going to shy away from an occasion, he’s someone who will definitely take it on.”
There is an interesting contrast here with India, who played the previously unused Rishabh Pant in their final group game in case he is needed during the knockout stages. Rohit Sharma explained on Wednesday that “we wanted to give him some time and have some options if we want to make changes” since “it would be unfair to just bring the guy from nowhere and make him play”.
With no fitness concerns, India’s one selection quandary is whether to keep Pant in the side or to bring back Dinesh Karthik.
One key battle will be between Buttler and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, which has in the past been completely one-sided. Buttler has faced 32 deliveries from Kumar in T20 internationals, scored 30 runs, got out five times and has an average of six; England’s innings will almost certainly start with Buttler facing Kumar. “There’s always certain bowlers that you find harder than others, or at certain times in your career you have good times against them and bad times against them,” Buttler said. “But I certainly don’t fear anyone. I always prepare well and look to play the ball in front of me and not the bowler.”
The most talked-about player going into the game is Suryakumar Yadav, who has lit up the tournament with three half-centuries, a strike rate of 193.96 and an array of shots that most players would be unable to produce even in their imaginations. “He’s the sort of guy who just doesn’t carry any baggage,” said Sharma. “Not his suitcase, he’s got lots of suitcases. Honestly, he loves his shopping. But when it comes to carrying extra pressure, extra baggage, I don’t think he has that in him.”
Buttler said: “I think he’s probably been the batter of the tournament so far. He’s obviously got all the shots, and he allows himself to play all the shots as well. But as with any batsman in the world, it takes one chance to create a wicket. We desperately need to find a way to do that.”