This was the first of 13 T20 internationals leading up to the World Cup in Australia in October, while most involved will also play at least eight matches in the Hundred. “There’s a clear path ahead of us now,” Buttler said. “There is no longer an ODI cricket, so we see this as the start of our run-up to the World Cup.”
Asked to bat first by David Miller, they collected 234 for 6, their second-highest T20I total of all time; they hit a total of 20 sixes, their most in an inning and only two off the record. They were clinical with the ball and on the field, despite a scare from Tristan Stubbs, finishing a 41-run win to start a series with victory for the first time in their four attempts at home this summer.
It backfired at the World Cup, when he struggled to find any kind of rhythm on slow fields with huge boundaries: he managed just 47 runs off 42 balls in the tournament, then advanced to open in the semi-finals when Jason Roy injured. hit . But Buttler was unwavering and propped up Bairstow’s ability to spin. On the night, he hit 51 from 27 balls against South Africa’s slow bowlers, including 29 from 11 against Tabraiz Shamsi (although six of those came via one of the many howlers from South Africa’s outfielders).
South Africa chose a team with only five frontline bowlers and were penalized for it. England aimed relentlessly at Shamsi: Malan thought he would throw in the field in a bid to protect the short straight boundaries and hit his first ball over the short leg-side boundary for six. Shamsi leaked 49 runs in his three overs – his fourth was transferred to Stubbs, whose part-time offbreaks cost 20.
“It was for left-right” [combination]Moeen explained. “But it wasn’t just the short side — bowlers’ plans change. Me and Livi play together in the Hundred and we did the same there. It’s a really good wicket and it’s nice ground for someone like me who’s not a huge batter.”
Both moves—the decision to keep Bairstow at No. 4 and promote Moeen to No. 5—came from the same school of strategic thinking. At times England were inflexible with their T20 batting orders, which resembled a hierarchy of their best hitters in order; this was a shift to a more modern deployment, using players in specific roles to target specific bowlers and stages. Buttler had hinted at it before the India series, saying England’s batting order “would depend on what the game needs, in an effort to best match people with the opposition”, but this was the first clear evidence on the field.
Of course, the conditions were very different from those England will face in Australia later this year: Bristol’s straight and square borders are barely 70 meters long, a cut compared to those of Down Under, and pitches at ICC events tended to to provide more for bowlers than this flat surface did.
But this remained an intriguing night for England’s evolution as a T20 side under Buttler. If they can repeat the trick in Cardiff and Southampton on Thursday and Sunday, they will go their separate ways for the Hundred with renewed confidence that they can push themselves onto the biggest stage later this year.