By the time Jonny Bairstow took his sweep from Keshav Maharaj to David Miller in a deep midwicket, confirming England’s joint worst T20I defeat of all time, the stands at the Ageas Bowl were half empty. Supporters had long since given up hopes on England, preferring to beat traffic and come home for the second half of the Euro 2022 final than watch a grim conclusion to a one-sided game.
It was a moment that summed up England’s white-ball summer. Everything Bairstow has touched turned to gold this year but even he couldn’t save them in the series decider, working his way to an unusually scratching 27 off 29 balls with just two limits as wickets tumbled on the other side ; he has scored at a higher strike rate in half of his Test innings this summer.
Since Eoin Morgan stepped down as captain, England have won just four games and lost nine in ODI and T20I cricket; for the first time since 2013, they failed to win a home limited-overs series. They will not play against another T20 international until they select their team for the T20 World Cup in mid-September and it is getting harder and harder to see them win that trophy in Australia.
England are not used to losing T20Is. Between June 2018 and July 2021, they won 10 of their 13 bilateral series and lost just two, but it has become a habit since last year’s World Cup. They have lost all three of their T20I series and since beating Sri Lanka in Sharjah at the World Cup last year, they have won four and lost nine.
Roy’s total of 76 off 98 from six innings leaves him looking increasingly vulnerable, and he desperately needs a strong season in the Hundred to prove he’s still worthy of his place on the side. His last in a succession of slow trudges came in the Ageas Bowl on Sunday after a 17-for-18 innings, four of which were by substitutions, with Phil Salt waiting in the wings for a chance.
England’s real problem was their bowling: South Africa’s 191 to 5 total was the second lowest total England have conceded in their six T20Is this summer
“We never imposed ourselves,” Buttler said. “We never managed to put pressure on the opponent again and that embarrassment is what I’m most frustrated about. As a team we want to be known for being brave and taking risks. We didn’t perform as we should to do.” I’ve had fun with the bat all summer, so maybe confidence in those situations takes a bit of a dent.”
But England’s real problem was their bowling: remarkably, South Africa’s 191 to 5 total was the second lowest total England have conceded in their six T20Is this summer. Obviously their batters have struggled, but they have regularly chased huge targets that demanded attacking shots from the start.
At various times over the past two years, England have struggled to take wickets with the new ball and contain it on death, but this summer they have been unusually impotent in the middle overs, taking just 14 wickets while leaking 10.2 runs one over between the start of the 7th over and the end of the 16th.
Their spinners have racked up 11.5 runs per over in their six matches, and their sailors’ plans have often been overly defensive: when Sam Curran cutters bowled into the field from the wicket, his only job seemed to be controlling speed against a South . African side that liked to consolidate before launching at the back.
“We failed to take as many wickets as we would have liked in those phases,” admitted Buttler. “Severing partnerships is a big part of controlling speed in white ball cricket. That’s where you, as a captain, think about what you could have done better.”
Obviously injuries were a big problem. Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Olly Stone, Saqib Mahmood and Tom Curran have all missed out on all summer, while Tymal Mills’ toe injury prevented him from the South African series. Chris Jordan, Richard Gleeson, David Willey and Reece Topley have glimpsed, but none conceded less than eight runs at a time over the summer.
And there is no guarantee that any of the names on their long injury list will be fully fit when England name their World Cup squad. “You know who’s available,” Buttler said. “Injuries are part of the game. You have to be excited about the guys you have around you and they’ve put in some performances.”
Strange things can happen in T20 World Cups: Australia spent the build-up to their win in 2021 losing to Bangladesh and the West Indies and was hammered by England during the tournament itself, before a run of four wins in a row gave them the title . It would be foolish to rule out England doing the same – but when Miller found himself among the catch that sealed South Africa’s victory, it was hard to imagine.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98