By the time Jonny Bairstow beat Keshav Maharaj to David Miller in the middle of the deep, confirming England’s worst-ever defeat in T20I, the stands at the Ageas Bowl were half empty. Fans gave up on England’s hopes before long, preferring to beat the crowds and go home in the second half of the Euro 2022 final than witness the bleak outcome of a one-sided match.
It was a moment that summed up the white ball summer in England. Everything Bairstow touched turned gold this year, but he couldn’t save them in the series segment, making his way to an extraordinary 27 out of just 29 binomial balls, with the wicket plummeting at the other end; He posted a higher strike rate in half of his test runs this summer.
Since Ewen Morgan has stepped down as captain, England have won only four matches and lost in nine matches via ODI and T20I cricket. For the first time since 2013, they failed to win a limited home series. They won’t play another T20 international before their team is selected for the T20 World Cup in mid-September, and it’s increasingly difficult to see them lift that trophy in Australia.
England are not used to losing T20Is. Between June 2018 and July 2021, they won 10 of their 13 doubles series and lost only two, but since last year’s World Cup it has become a habit. They have lost all three of their T20I series and since they beat Sri Lanka in Sharjah in the World Cup last year, they have won four and lost nine.
A total of 76 runs from 98 balls from six innings makes him look increasingly vulnerable, and he desperately needs a strong cent season to prove he still deserves his place in the side. His latest in a series of slow-running Ageas Bowl runs on Sunday came after 17 of 18 innings, four of which came through inversion, and Phil Salt waits in the wings for a chance.
The real issue for England was bowling: South Africa’s total of 191 to 5 was the second lowest total conceded by England in their six T20Is matches this summer.
“We never imposed ourselves,” Butler said. “We’ve never really managed to put pressure back on an opponent and that shyness is the thing I’m most frustrated with. As a team, we want to be famous for being brave and taking risks. I’ve loved bats during the summer, so maybe take a little confidence in those situations.”
But the real problem in England was bowling: Remarkably, South Africa’s total of 191 to 5 was the second lowest total conceded by England in the six T20Is this summer. Their fighters obviously struggled, but they were regularly chasing formidable targets that required offensive fire from the start.
At various points over the past two years England have struggled to take a wicket with the new ball and contain it at death, but this summer they have been uncharacteristically helpless in the middle, taking just 14 wickets while leaking 10.2 runs between the start of Day Seven and the end of Day 16.
They conceded 11.5 points each time during their six games, and their stitching tactics were often overly defensive: When Sam Curran was bowling all over the field from around a wicket, his only job seemed to be controlling the rate against the South. The African side that was happy to unite before cruising at the back end.
“We couldn’t take as much share as we’d like in those phases,” Butler admitted. “Breaking the partnerships is a big part of controlling the rate of white ball cricket. Here as a captain, you can think about what you could have done better.”
Obviously, injuries were a major issue. Jofra Archer, Chris Walks, Mark Wood, Oli Stone, Saqib Mahmood and Tom Curran missed the entirety of the white ball summer, while Timal Mills’ toe injury ruled him out of the South African series. Chris Jordan, Richard Gleeson, David Wylie and Reese Tubley have shown glimpses, but no one has admitted fewer than eight runs over the summer.
And there is no guarantee that any of the names on the long injury list will be a perfect fit when England name their World Cup team. “You have someone who is available,” Butler said. “Injuries are an integral part of the game. You have to be excited about the players around you who have put in some performances.”
Stranger things can happen in the T20 World Cups: Australia spent their run-up for their victory in 2021 losing to Bangladesh and the West Indies and beating England in the same tournament, before a run of four straight victories won the title. It would be foolish to rule out England doing the same – but when Miller settled under the catch that sealed South Africa’s victory, it was hard to imagine.
Matt Roller is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. Hahahaha